Telluride weighs taxes on carbon and sugar

TELLURIDE – As it was with its ban on plastic bags, Telluride is out on the cutting – and perhaps bleeding – edge in two key issues. Local voters will be asked in November to impose taxes on sugary drinks sold in Telluride in an effort to discourage their consumption. The estimated $200,000 annual revenues would be used to support physical fitness programs in local schools.

The second, a broader initiative in San Miguel County, would impose a 1 percent tax on utility bills, with the $150,000 to $175,000 yielded by the tax annually earmarked for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Taking stock of these proposals, Seth Cagin, publisher of The Telluride Watch, observes that the underlying premise for both taxes is that both sugar and carbon have broad injurious impacts when used without moderation.

Libertarians might object that this should be individual choice. “We might wonder where it will end,” he says of such taxing proposals. “Will the nanny state someday regulate mountaineering because outdoor adventurers risk injuries that tax all of us when they need to be rescued or end up in an emergency room?”

Cagin doesn't buy the libertarian philosophy. “I would argue that each effort at restricting problems or behaviors should be considered on its merits.”

So, what are the arguments in this case? “The scientific evidence that both sugar and carbon are toxic substances when used in excess is irrefutable,” he said.

Then again, even if that’s true, why should Telluride take a stand?

“Every social movement has to start somewhere, somehow, and every effort by individuals or a small community to take some measure of control over industrial heedlessness constitutes a step forward,” he says. “The longest journey starts with the first step, and that is precisely why Telluride has become a battleground on the sugar tax.”

Finally, would imposing a tax be onerous in its enforcement? In the case of the carbon tax, certainly not. “San Miguel County can easily afford to take this small step,” he insists.

As for sugar, he concedes collection of the tax will be more onerous on retailers and restaurants, but the burden will be tolerable.


Obamacare welcomed in wealthy Jackson Hole

JACKSON, Wyo. – It was standing room only at the Teton County Library in Jackson when a state insurance official explained nuances of the Affordable Care Act, what is commonly called Obamacare.

Jackson Hole is among the wealthiest places in the United States. Still, plenty of locals will qualify for the subsidized health insurance.

The Jackson Hole Daily says applicants qualify if they earn between 100 and 400 percent of federal poverty income levels. That’s up to $46,000 for an individual and $94,200 for a family of four.

“It’s high time we had some sort of government program. It’s long overdue,” said Liz Goldsmith, a former emergency medical technician.

“Health care costs have skyrocketed,” she said, “and we’re the only advanced country in the world that doesn't have some sort of program for health care.”


Breck now charging for shopping bags

BRECKENRIDGE – Although the decision was made many months ago, Breckenridge this week instituted its fee on free disposable shopping bags. Beginning Tuesday, 10 cents was to be charged for most disposable plastic and paper bags.

The fee is intended to encourage the use of reusable bags and dissuade the use of disposable bags. Fee revenues will be used to promote the use of reusable bags.

Research found that an estimated 3 million disposable bags are handed out by retail and grocery stores in Breckenridge on an annual basis.


Banff sewage creates nice source of income

BANFF, Alberta – You can’t entirely call it “waste” when it’s yielding revenue of $15,000 a year. That’s the assessment in Banff, where sewage is being used as the core ingredient in a fertilizer and soil amendment. Food waste and lime from a nearby cement factory are also part of the mix, which the Rocky Mountain Outlook says is mostly free of pathogens while retaining other useful microorganisms.


Life-and-death drama in the rocks of Jasper

JASPER, Alberta – It was a matter of life or death. This drama, however, was long ago, during the 270 million years when the marine creatures called trilobites existed in Cambrian seaways. These animals with segmented bodies and many tiny legs had to defend themselves against predators.

How did they do so? By rolling up, according to a new discovery at one of the trilobite fossil beds in Jasper National Park. Dr. Javier Ortega-Hernandez explains that in rolling themselves into balls, the early trilobites were able to protect their vital areas with a tough outer carapace, or shell. Later trilobites were known to defend themselves in this way, but the fossil evidence for the earlier trilobites was lacking, explains the Jasper Fitzhugh.

Want to go get your own rolled-up trilobite fossil? You won’t get any help from Ortega-Hernandez. He was tight-lipped in his interview with the Fitzhugh, for fear that fossil hunters would plunder and pillage the site.


Dogs again figure into moose attack

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Now comes yet another report of a woman getting knocked about by a moose. As happened twice this summer in nearby Grand Lake, a woman was out walking her dogs in an area near Steamboat Springs that is widely known to be frequented by moose.

Sure enough, two moose appeared. One wandered off, but when the woman began running, the other moose knocked her down. The resulting cut required 12 staples in her noggin, and it was said to be consistent with that of a moose hoof. The woman doesn't seem to recollect exactly what happened after she started running, reports The Steamboat Pilot & Today.

What does seem pertinent is that the woman had two dogs, and they were apparently running off-leash. “The wolf is really the only natural predator a moose has, so when a moose sees a dog, it thinks wolf,” explained Jim Haskins, the long-time state wildlife agent for the Steamboat area.


A hotel for Snowmass? But not at other places

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – From Colorado to Montana, there’s talk of hotels in ski towns of the West. The most clear-cut story comes from Snowmass Village, where the Aspen Skiing Co. wants to build a 103-room hotel.

Snowmass is the big ski area for Aspen, the place for intermediate-skiing. However, as Aspen’s lodging base eroded, the ski company found itself losing ground to Beaver Creek, Deer Valley and other resorts with newer hotels.

Finally, a decade ago, Aspen Skiing Co. teamed with Intrawest to put together a massive redevelopment plan, ultimately called Base Village. After being spun off to a third party, called Related Westpac, the project delivered a major hotel, the Viceroy. However, other projects got caught with their pants down by the recession. Concrete foundations and rebar remained when the financial collapse occurred.

Now comes the Aspen Skiing Co., known locally as SkiCo, with intent to buy a lot on which condos had been planned. By expanding the building footprint, Aspen Skiing  Co. figures it can create short-term rentals with the type of price point – high, but not nosebleed by Aspen standards – to draw destination skiers.

“The unfinished condition in Base Village is damaging our brand, our customers are losing patience, and local businesses and taxing districts are struggling,” says a memo from SkiCo to the Snowmass Town Council.

The company wanted an abbreviated review process, and Aspen newspapers indicate that is likely to happen. Construction is planned to be completed in late 2015, or a little more than two years from now.

In nearby Aspen, the new owners of a property in the downtown area are reported to be considering their options for a mixed commercial and lodging property. The key is that Aspen’s new zoning allows three stories high, but only if the property is located on the north side of the street, to avoid putting too much of the street into shade. This property fits that bill.

But the story of hotels cuts both ways. In Ketchum, Idaho, nobody seems able to scrape up the financing for hotels. Town officials began revising regulations early in the last decade to allow a new generation of taller, denser buildings to accommodate for-sale real estate. Such real-estate has long been seen as necessary to defray the “hot beds," or short-term rentals, that are needed in a tourism economy.

Five different hotels were subsequently approved. Not one has been built. One of them, Hotel Ketchum, originally got approval in November 2008. Developer Jack Bariteau notes horrendous timing for his 73-room Hotel Ketchum. He got approval in November 2008. “I didn’t foresee this difficulty in finding capital,” he told the Ketchum Town Council. He said he’s worked in real estate since 1976, and this was the fourth recession he’s lived through. “Nobody could have predicted the depth of this, or the destruction that it’s caused.”

Bariteau told the Idaho Mountain Express that he is reviewing several offers for the $52 million he needs to build the hotel. Most intriguing is the potential for foreign investment. Under the U.S. government’s EB-5 funding that was created 25 years ago, foreign nationals may obtain green cards in exchange for investing money in projects in the United States.

That funding formula was the vehicle for Chinese investment in a real estate project in Vail.

Finally, in Whitefish, Mont., plans for a $70 million hotel and convention center have been scrapped after the developer had to withdraw because of personal health. The hotel, reports the Whitefish Pilot, was to have had 150 rooms, a year-round ice rink, a 45,000-square-foot water park and a convention center large enough to accommodate groups of up to 1,500 and banquets for 2,000.

– Allen Best

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