Slides, mud and floods hit Colorado

VAIL – From Crested Butte on north, the final weeks of April were unusually snowy, leaving snow depths at higher elevations up to 220 percent of average going into May. Now, with the snowstorms not yet subsided, come worries about avalanches, flooding and mudslides.

In warning of what may lie ahead, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center last Friday noted an unusually large avalanche near the old mining town of Montezuma, located in Summit County along the Continental Divide. The slide ripped out 100-year-old trees, avalanche forecasters said, and disabled an electrical transmission line.

At Independence Pass, between Aspen and Leadville, the snowpack was the third highest since record-keeping began in 1937. North of Steamboat, at Buffalo Pass, the snowfall accumulation was 200 inches deep, with 72 inches of water in that snowpack.

As remarkable as this seems, there are some strong parallels with 1995, a year in which spring snowstorms returned again and again – even into mid June. Alighting from a ski lift that year at Arapahoe Basin, the astonished editor of a ski magazine turned to his companion and said: “These are mid-winter conditions!” It was June 15.

But no real flooding occurred that year. The last big year for floods and mudslides was in 1984. It was the second of two big snow years, and the ground was thoroughly saturated with moisture.

The most significant mudslides that year were in the Vail area. One of them blubbered onto Interstate 70 just west of Vail, closing the highway for two days. Another mudslide, in the old mining town of Red Cliff, located near Vail, threatened to take out several houses. Mudslides also did damage in the town of Vail.

Afterward, an early warning system was installed in Red Cliff, to warn residents if the mud was headed their way. Jersey barriers, the waist-high concrete blocks you see along roads, were also installed, to divert the muck. West of Vail, pipes were inserted deep into the adjoining slopes of Meadow Mountain to draw away moisture.

Eagle County property values plummet

EAGLE – Eagle County Assessor Mark Chapin usually hears from homeowners protesting that the county valued their property too high, thus increasing their taxes. But with the new assessments, reflecting values of the last two years, some property owners are complaining that he was too low.

In fact, real estate prices tumbled badly during the Great Recession. No news there. But the assessments being released by county officials more clearly show the roller-coaster trends in resort communities.

In Gypsum, located 37 miles west of Vail, home prices have dropped around 45 percent in the last two years. In Avon they’re down 34 percent. And in Vail, 24 percent, reports theVail Daily.

In the adjoining Roaring Fork Valley, similar trends were noted in Aspen and its down-valley suburbs. In Aspen itself, values were down 20 to 30 percent. But down-valley at Basalt, prices in some locations had dropped by up to 60 percent, reports The Aspen Times.

Small home market picking up steam

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Conventional wisdom has been that the new market for real estate will embrace smaller homes. That’s what a developer has in mind in Steamboat Springs. Charlie Sher has pulled building permits for two 2,400-square-foot spec homes in the community’s older section.

“My program is to build homes that would work for families of any age: a retired couple or a couple with kids. They’re two stories, have two-car garages, and the option of having an office or a fourth bedroom,” he told theSteamboat Pilot & Today. He’s planning to deliver the product by summer of 2012, and with a price point of around $900,000 to $1 million.

Meanwhile, in Gunnison County, the minimum size for a house is 600 square feet. That goes against the grain of a new movement, which sees value in smaller houses, some as small as 65 square feet. Should Gunnison County loosen the restrictions and allow houses of, say, 400 square feet?

The Crested Butte News reports plenty of discussion at a recent meeting of planning commissioners, but little compelling reason to change. Just one property owner has sought a waiver from the house-size minimum.

Canmore composting passes muster

CANMORE, Alberta – After the first winter of operation, the Earth Tub Composter at Canmore Collegiate High School seems to be getting passing grades. The school’s commercial foods teacher wanted to stop sending food wastes to the landfill, and that led to purchase of the Earth Tub Composter and then placement in a bear-proof compound.

Students contribute the waste food to the composter, along with wood chips and sawdust from the school shop. The compost produced will be used at the school greenhouse and on landscaping projects while also saving landfill costs, estimated at $106 per week, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

A few miles away at Banff, there is a similar report of success with a recycling program. There, 17 percent of residential waste is now being diverted. But counting diversion of biosolids retrieved after sewage treatment, the community crows about a 50 percent diversion rate. Helping encourage the higher recycling rates among commercial properties are fees stepped in favor of recycling. As the waste that isn’t recycled must be hauled to a landfill at Calgary, an hour away, there is additional incentive.

Co-op election draws nine candidates

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – By reputation, Holy Cross Energy is perhaps the most progressive electrical cooperative in Colorado, maybe the nation. It delivers electricity reliably and inexpensively while starting to shift toward cleaner sources.

Yet this year, there are nine candidates for the two Board of Director seats from the Vail, Aspen and Glenwood Springs areas. In recent years, there were never more than two or three candidates per slot, and not even that many in years prior.

What gives? Auden Schendler, who represents the Aspen Skiing Co. in environmental matters, says he hasn’t been involved in soliciting and promoting candidates, unlike the past several elections. Randy Udall, an energy activist and analyst (and this year a candidate), says he’s unclear why there is so much interest. At $600 a month, the financial incentive isn’t compelling, he points out.

Yet to be seen is whether residents who get their energy from Holy Cross bother to vote. Most years, the turnout rate has been just 10 percent, far less than the normal figure of 50 percent for local town elections. Holy Cross officials say they’d be delighted if 25 percent of people put their ballots in the mail.

Aspen brushes up on bear smarts

ASPEN – City officials in Aspen are dispensing helpful hunts to property owners who want to avoid tangling with bears. The best single tactic is to keep trash in bear-resistant containers, as required by law – although one not universally obeyed. But those who want to avoid bruins cruising for free food are advised by bear specialist Dan Glidden of the Aspen Police Department to spray small amounts of ammonia or bleach around trash containers or patio doors.

Another idea, he tellsThe Aspen Times, is to place boards with nails sticking out of them near doors or waste containers. Being pricked by nails will usually startle the bear and cause him or her to leave. Screws, however, can break off inside the bear, making them angry.

Woman sets new vertical skiing record

WHISTLER, B.C. – Stephanie Jagger has now claimed the Guinness World Record for vertical skiing, having chalked up – and down – 4.1 million vertical feet in the past 10 months. After the final day of record-chasing, achieved at Blackcomb, she was asked byPique Newsmagazine what she planned to do next. Soak up sunshine in California, she said.

– Allen Best


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