Drilling seeks hot water for Aspen
ASPEN – Drilling is under way in Aspen, which hopes to strike pay dirt in the form of hot water. A preliminary analysis suggested that water underneath the town is 90 to 110 degrees, but temperatures of at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit are needed to provide heat for buildings, explains the Aspen Daily News. That’s what the drilling will determine. The geothermal testing is part of the city’s ambitious effort to shrink its carbon footprint in a multitude of ways.

Affordable housing rules may be cut
EAGLE – Is it time to roll back some of the requirements for affordable housing enacted during the boom years?

Jon Stavney thinks so. Running for Eagle County commissioner in 2008, he supported regulations that required 35 percent of all projects be dedicated for work-force housing. For years, he points out, the county – which includes Vail and Beaver Creek – had been growing 10 percent annually, with 40 percent of the work force involved in building or development. Neither that pace nor portion was sustainable. Most developers didn’t bother with providing lower-end housing.

Now, he wants to reduce the onus on developers, in hopes of encouraging more development. That, he suggests, will put people back to work.
The Eagle County Housing Authority recently began a conversation with developers and local jurisdictions about how best to reposition expectations. “I believe those regulations established at the height of the market must be revised for the new reality,” he says in an essay published in the Vail Daily.

Old-growth logging will continue
WHISTLER, B.C. – End the cutting of old-growth in the Cheakamus Community Forest? Not gonna happen soon, says Peter Ackhurst, who chairs the partnership that manages the 33,000 hectares of forest. The partnership consists of Whistler and two First Nations groups, the Squamish and Lil’wat.
“Right now, there is no second growth that’s old enough to harvest,” he said at a recent meeting. “There will be some old-forest logging at least for 20 years. I would think it would be very difficult to maintain the harvest without logging the old growth.”

Several readers of Pique Newsmagazine were aggrieved by the report. “Every year, Whistler spends hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting itself as a model of ‘sustainability.’ At the same time, it continues logging its old-growth forests,” wrote Van Clayton Powell. Said another reader: “These forests are worth more standing than logged.”

Breckenridge solar garden gets popular
BRECKENRIDGE – Breckenridge continues to move forward with its investment into solar energy. This year, the town completed installation of a significant number of panels for municipal operations.

Now, the town has leased two parcels of land, which will be used for community solar gardens. Solar gardens allow consumers to buy into electrical production at a smaller but centralized facility. This is more practical for condominiums, but even single-family homes, as maintenance is easier at one location.

Four-fifths of the capacity at the 500-kilowatt-hour garden has been spoken for by the towns of Breckenridge, Dillon and Silverthorne. The other garden will be two to four times larger. Although both gardens are in the planning stages, they are already popular with businesses, individuals and governments eager to buy in, reports the Summit Daily News.

Jackson’s food-stamp recipients double
JACKSON, Wyo. – The number of families in Teton County getting food stamps has more than doubled since 2008, when the recession hit.
Officials tell the Jackson Hole News&Guide that food-stamp recipients typically increase during winter, when construction slackens. Not this year. The valley has shed 2,000 jobs in the last several years, mostly in the construction trades. Counselors are steering the unemployed to Rock Springs, an energy hub, or to the giant oil boom in North Dakota.

REI opens stores amid wilds of NYC
NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. – REI, which for many is the church of outdoor retailing, is rooted in cities. It was founded in Seattle, and now has a presence in Denver, Salt Lake City and now, in Manhattan, too.

The New York Times reports that REI is opening a store in the SoHo district of lower Manhattan. The Times wryly advises that picking up garbage on trails is fine – but do-gooder REI employees should be alerted it’s not smart to pick up used needles and other garbage from parks in New York.

The outdoor clothing market has been booming, with upticks of 10.3 percent in 2010 and 11 percent so far this year, according to the Leisure Trends Group. And REI figures it can make money in Manhattan, which it expects to be one of its top income producers.

REI also has a longer-range mission. REI’s chief executive, Sally Jewell, tells the Times that unless more people in cities take an interest in the outdoors, as an industry, outdoors retailers will “really be in trouble” in a generation.

Homewood to become less homely
TAHOE CITY, Calif. – Revitalization of the Tahoe Basin ski areas is well under way. Two Colorado-based companies, Vail Resorts and KSL, have been expanding and upgrading their ski areas. And then there’s Homewood Mountain Resort, by all accounts wonderfully funky, which is to say that not much has changed in several decades.

JMA Ventures, the San Francisco-based company that bought Homewood several years ago, has been assembling plans that will make Homewood more comparable to the other buffed-and-shined ski areas of the West.

According to the Sierra Sun, most people at a recent meeting expressed support for the changes. “We are experiencing insipid decay,” said one resident. “We need this development approved” for environmental, social and economic reasons. The upgrade will yield an estimated 180 new jobs, plus $6 million to $7 million annually in new tax revenues.

Not everybody, however, approves. A Sierra Club representative called the developer “well intentioned” but said the project doesn’t have to be so large.
Art Chapman, president of JMA Ventures, said that it does need to be that large. “A smaller project won’t work because it will not generate sufficient skiers to sustain the ski operation,” he said. “If this plan doesn’t come together, Homewood will close. There is no alternative.”

Grizzly run-ins continue near Whistler
WHISTLER, B.C. – It was news just a few years ago that grizzlies were living in the Whistler area. Still, it came as quite the surprise to a jogger recently when he came face to face with a grizzly on a trail.

Both Ursus arctos horribilis and Homo sapien did about-faces, reports Whistler’s Pique Newsmagazine. Wildlife experts suggested the bear was just passing through after a coastal trip to hunt for salmon.

To the east of Whistler, near the community of Pemberton, an interaction of people and bear had no such benign outcome. The 700-pound grizzly was found shot to death. Hunting of grizzlies is illegal. It was not the same bear as was seen near Whistler.

– Allen Best