Pipelines disputed across the continent
JASPER, Alberta – In two very different places last week, one a mountain town in Alberta and the other the farm-and-ranch country of Nebraska, the question of how the bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands may be exported was debated.

In Jasper, 200 people gathered to hear 40 aboriginal leaders from British Columbia explain their opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline that would transport the diluted bitumen to a port at Kitimat, B.C. The aboriginals fear the risk of the pipeline leaking, despoiling the creeks whose salmon have provided them sustenance.

While transport company Enbridge is offering the First Nations $280 million in net income over the next 30 years to cross their land, one of the leaders, Pete Erickson, also known as hereditary Chief Tsohdih, said it’s not about the money. It’s about protecting ancestral lands.
“We’re here about just simply the Earth,” he told Jasper’s Fitzhugh, a newspaper. “And I think most people are grounded, and they listen to that message.”

In Nebraska, the issue was much the same. In the farming town of Neligh, 70 people listened as a lawyer described their legal options as another company, TransCanada, tries to extend a 36-inch pipeline called Keystone XL through their property.

One of those at the meeting, fourth-generation rancher Karl Connell explained that it wasn’t just the money, and it wasn’t just the question of whether a foreign company should be able to force him to accept its pipeline through a process called eminent domain.

It was also, said Connell, a question of how a ruptured pipeline would affect his ability to grow grass to feed cattle on his ranch in the Sand Hills. TransCanada has assured him of the pipeline’s safety, but he isn’t buying it.

Gas drilling faulted for fouled air
JACKSON, Wyo.—Air in Jackson Hole remains of high quality, despite the proximity of one of the West’s great natural gas bonanzas just an hour to the south.

The American Lung Association tells the Jackson Hole News& Guide that Jackson Hole had just one day of bad air in the last three years. On that one bad day, ozone concentrations were high enough that young children, the elderly and people with respiratory diseased were advised to stay indoors. What caused that high level of ozone was not reported.

About an hour south, in the valley between the Wind River and Wyoming mountain ranges, the air quality is far worse. Pinedale and Sublette County had 15 alert days, 14 because of ozone and one because of particulates. Included were several days when everybody, including healthy adults, was advised to stay outdoors.

The primary problem is the pollution caused by drill rig engines in the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline fields, two of the hot spots in the Rocky Mountain West. Some ozone, however, is natural.

But ozone can travel great distances. Ozone from China, for example, has been known to trip high-ozone days in cities along the West Coast.

Commissioners talk coal contradiction
GUNNISON – Gunnison County commissioners have endorsed a plan that would allow expanded coal mining on public lands about 30 miles northwest of Crested Butte. The Crested Butte News says that local resident Richard Karas sees a contradiction. This same county government is enlisted in an effort to reduce carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020.

Commissioner Paula Swenson said that change takes time – and that the nearby coal at least produces fewer emissions of sulfur dioxide than most. “I would love to say we’re going to be in wind and solar energy in the next five years, but the reality is that we’re not,” she said.

Salt Lake - Park City lightrail mulled
PARK CITY, Utah – Cities in the Salt Lake Valley have an excellent light-rail system. Should light-rail someday be extended to what locals called the Wasatch Back, meaning Park City and other communities on the east side of the mountain range?

A planning group is looking at transportation options and has talked about that possibility, although participants tell The Park Record there’s no consensus. Daily bus service between Park City and Salt Lake City was instituted only last year.

Aspen a model for reducing event waste
ASPEN – Aspen banned bottled water from race-course dispensaries last year when the USA Pro Cycling Challenge came through town. This year, other stops along the week-long bicycle extravaganza may well do the same thing.

City officials tell the Aspen Daily News that other host communities along the tour in Colorado are studying Aspen’s efforts to reduce the amount of waste produced. Aspen also requires that the event have recycling and composting bins, and that “shwag” given out in conjunction with the race be made from reusable and recyclable materials.

Peaks may be named after couple
TELLURIDE – Several years ago, mountaineers Charlie Fowler and Christine Boskoff were killed in an avalanche in Tibet. Family and friends of the couple are keen to have two 13,000-foot peaks in the Telluride area named in their honor.

The San Miguel County commissioners are supporting the naming in the vicinity of Mount Wilson, looking down on where the couple lived. Final say in the matter belongs to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, which mostly relies on federal land managers and local officials for guidance.

Eagle to vote again on development
EAGLE – Nine years ago, when a professional basketball player was accused of rape, metropolitan and national reporters who flocked to the county seat of Eagle, located 31 miles west of Vail, described the town as “tiny.”

And maybe it was. But the town of 6,500 has been growing far more rapidly than its businesses. Population grew 114 percent from 2000-10. Sales tax collections have grown only 22 percent. Without improved collections, say some, the town will slowly, steadily fall on hard times. Sales taxes account for 40 percent of municipal operations.

To help rectify that situation, the Town Board this year approved a giant complex along the interstate that could yield 733,000 square feet of commercial space and 550 rental units. Developers expect the stores to draw shoppers from Vail, Aspen and Steamboat Springs.
Town voters May 22 will decide whether the project goes forward. Early last year, in a narrow vote, they rejected a similar proposal, many on the grounds that the project would make Eagle like anywhere else.

Among those who opposed is Yuri Kostick, the new mayor. He argues for silver buckshot instead of a silver bullet. “The town needs to try as many different things as possible to increase its revenue,” he tells the Eagle Valley Enterprise.

Project supporters, however, point out that town residents must drive 20 or 30 miles for even themost simple of everyday items.

Vail Resorts reports strong sale of passes
BROOMFIELD – How much would the marginal-or-worse snow conditions of last winter affect expectations about next winter?

Apparently, not much, in the case of Vail Resorts. Rob Katz, chief executive of the company, says that sales of season passes this spring are expected to be even stronger.

Vail Resorts survived handsomely last winter despite the absence of snow that caused skier days to decline 12 percent at its ski areas in Colorado and California.

But lift revenue was down only slightly, owing in large part to record-setting sales of its season passes, most of them purchased in advance.

Upticks noted in building and sales
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – From here and there come reports that suggest a quickening pulse to the building and real estate economy of mountain towns.

The Vail Daily reports a variety of construction projects planned this summer, most in Vail but some in down-valley communities.

Residential developer Patrick Chirichillo has been waiting for an improved economy since getting approval in 2007. “There’s been an uptick in the real estate market in the last month or two,” he told the Daily. “And we’re hoping the market keeps moving that way.”

But development consultant Lance Badger sees a slow restart. The cost of existing inventory is still far cheaper than the cost of new construction, he points out.

In Steamboat, units in a lodge were being auctioned off. Prices had dropped substantially. On units with asking prices of $1.3 million in 2009, bids were reaching only $557,000, a realty agent tells the Steamboat Today. But agents interviewed by the newspaper were  encouraged by the bidding and the movement of real estate – they hoped leading to other sales.

The Today also reports some construction being planned, including that of a warehouse and a 49-unit apartment complex.

Real estate sale signs frowned on in Aspen
ASPEN – Following a trend reported in Vail and elsewhere, the Aspen Board of Realtors is asking members to refrain from posting for-sale signs on properties.

Too many signs in a single area send the wrong message that a city has a glut of properties, according to some directors. Others argue that agents can advertise their services through other means and don’t need to post the signs on property.

The recommendation does not apply to property-for-sale signs posted in businesses, notes The Aspen Times. The board, however, has no authority to tell members what they can do.

Bag bans begin with little fuss
ASPEN – Bans on distribution of throw-away plastic shopping bags have gone into effect in Aspen and its down-valley counterpart of Carbondale. Those needing paper bags because they forget their reusable bags will be charged 20 cents.

The Aspen Times reports seeing ample evidence of forgetfulness as shoppers crammed groceries into backpacks or hauled the items to cars in grocery carts, but almost no bellyaching.

The real test will be when tourists return to Aspen. “I imagine we’ll have a few more upset customers, but they’ll adjust,” said John Hailey, manager of the Aspen City Market.

– Allen Best