Crested Butte mining project hits snag

CRESTED BUTTE – There was dancing in the streets in Crested Butte as another mining company bowed out of the controversial Mt. Emmons project.

Thompson Creek Metals Co., a Denver-based firm, said it believes the molybdenum deposits at Crested Butte remain viable, but instead wants to devote its resources to a project in British Columbia, reports theCrested Butte News.

Wyoming-based company U.S. Energy retains the property but has had trouble enlisting or retaining the partnership of a mining company large enough to persevere in the face of great public opposition.

“Obviously they decided it took up a ton of management time – the Forest Service scrutiny, the water quality issues, the fact that the Climax mine (near Leadville) is getting ready to re-open and add 30 to 40 million more pounds per year to the molybdenum market,” said Bill Ronai, president of an opposition group called the Red Lady Coalition. “They had to be asking if this project was really worth it. A number of serious mining companies have now backed away from this project.”

Various mining companies have wanted to develop the molybdenum deposits since the 1970s. And although Crested Butte was born as a mining town and still romances that heritage, it wants no part of it going forward.

High Country Citizens Alliance, another grassroots environmental organization, expects U.S. Energy to continue to seek a partner. “I’m sure they’ll try to keep this thing sputtering along,” said the alliance’s Dan Morse. “Our job as a community is to stop it.”

U.S. Energy, in a press release, reported plans to reach out to Chinese investors. “They tend to have a longer-term view regarding resource inventory,” said chief executive Keith Larsen.

Aspen continues hydroelectric efforts

ASPEN – In ways large and small, Aspen and Pitkin County are at the front trickle of what might be called the Great Energy Transition.

This is a familiar position for the community. Since the 1980s, the community has been in the forefront, first trying to reduce its dependence upon electricity from coal plants because of the nitrous oxides and other, unsavory aspects of coal, but now because of the greenhouse gas emissions.

But the path to cleaner energy sources has plenty of bumps. A raft of stories inThe Aspen Times illustrates the difficult policy choices.

One strategy was to develop hydroelectric power. Already, Aspen enjoys among the lowest electricity rates in Colorado with among the lowest of carbon footprints. This owes in part to a small hydro plant on a local creek but also a hydroelectric unit installed on nearby Ruedi Dam during the 1980s. Together, they provide 3.2 megawatts of electricity.

Looking to continue that theme, Aspen voters in 2007 authorized $5.5 million in bonds for a new hydroelectricity plant on Castle Creek. However, residents along the creek that would be substantially dewatered, especially in fall and winter, raised a ruckus.

As a consequence, Aspen city officials are now forsaking an exemption, as allowed in places of prior installations, and will instead go through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s formal review process.

The cost of environmental review will increase, construction will be delayed, and the outcome is less predictable, said Steve Barwick, the city manager. However, city staffers have indications from several opposition groups that they will support the outcome.

Meanwhile, Aspen has indicated an interest in committing to purchase of power from a dam in Ridgway, if it is retrofitted with hydroelectric facilities.

Steamboat developer gets 6 years

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Brooks L. Kellogg, 72, likely will spend some of his golden years behind bars. In a plea bargain in which he agreed to six years in prison, the former developer in

Steamboat Springs pleaded guilty to interstate travel with intent that a murder be committed.

Kellogg owes $2.38 million related to deals involving land near the base of the Steamboat ski area to a former business associate from Florida. Kellogg’s mistress, a convicted felon, hatched the plan to have the former business associate killed. She pressured Kellogg to go along with it, then shared her information with federal authorities.

Posing as a murderer for hire, a federal agent met Kellogg in Denver after he had flown from Chicago. The agent said that Kellogg provided $2,000 and expressed no reservations.

The Denver Post says that an attorney for Kellogg said the government’s conduct was illegal, but advised Kellogg to take the plea deal.

Kellogg, from Chicago, had been a managing member of Chadwick Real Estate Group. He owned an office and retail building in downtown Steamboat and also a home overlooking a golf course in Steamboat.

Vail Ritz-Carlton falls into foreclosure

AVON – One of Beaver Creek’s highest-end hotels has gone into foreclosure. Miami-based Gencom, owner of the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch, owes $61 million, reports theVail Daily, citing records in the Eagle County Treasurer’s Office.

The building and land itself are worth $24.2 million, according to the county assessor. But a more comparable indicator of the value is that of another hotel at Beaver Creek, the Park Hyatt, which in 2007 sold for $69 million.

Citing aWall Street Journalreport, theDaily says that much of Gencom’s financial trouble stems from its deals with Lehman Brothers. After Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008, other banks acquired Lehman’s mortgages. Swedmark, the Swedish bank, acquired the loan for the Ritz-Carlton. Gencom could still end up with the hotel at Beaver Creek.

Aspen gets a grip on the “old normal”

ASPEN – With everybody trying to get a grip on what constitutes the “new normal,” the question lingers: could ski towns revert to the old normal? And, if so, which normal of old?

The old normal of the 15 or 20 years prior to the Great Recession was an economy crazed by real estate sales. Sales of condominiums in ski towns go back at least to the 1960s. But after changes in tax laws in 1987, the real estate economy picked up its pace, fueled by what now was obviously a mass delusion about ever-escalating prices.

Even in the old, old days, construction was part of the game. In the winter, people worked on the ski hill. And in summer, they ran backhoes or pounded nails.

But eventually, construction continued year round. Building, selling and then servicing houses overshadowed the pure tourism economy in Aspen, Vail and several other resorts. A 2004 study found that 41 percent of all jobs in Aspen and Pitkin County were related to real estate.

What does the future hold? Jim Weskott, Colorado’s former state demographer, didn’t exactly forecast the burst of the real estate bubble. But now that it has occurred, he doesn’t foresee a resumption anytime soon. Instead, he sees tourism and a more pared appetite for vacation homes, reportsThe Aspen Times.

Mick Ireland, Aspen’s mayor, disagrees. He says national tax policy could result in extended cuts for the wealthy or even an overhaul of the tax rate. And, in all cases, that means a further concentration of wealth in Aspen – and perhaps a return to the speculative real estate bubble.

Jimmie Heuga’s father dies at 102

TAHOE CITY, Calif. –Jimmie Heuga, the famous ski racer from the 1960s, died a few years ago of MS. Recently, his father, Pete, died at the age of 102.

Pete Heuga was born in France, but immigrated to the United States when he was 15, traveling to Merced, Calif., where he herded sheep for his step-father. In his 20s, he was a cook at Yosemite Lodge.

– Allen Best

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows