Mountain Town News: After a big fire, figuring out electrical resilience | ParkRecord.com

Mountain Town News: After a big fire, figuring out electrical resilience

Allen Best
Mountain Town News
Allen Best, author of Mountain Town News.
MountainTownNews

A lot of what-ifs in case of hospital switcheroo

KETCHUM, Idaho – In 2002, Thomas Johnson Jr. retired as the long-time fire chief in Ketchum. Only recently did the 77-year-old learn that he wasn’t really Thomas Johnson but instead Herbert Benjamin Reibman.

By whatever name, he was born on Dec. 7, 1941, the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed, drawing the United States head-first into World War II. This was in a hospital in Michigan, shortly after the news arrived.

A hospital employee switched two newborn infants, and the parents never learned of the mistake. Neither did the other man, who was actually a Johnson but went through life thinking he was Herbert Reibman. He died in the 1990s.

All of this was reported by a newspaper in Challis, Idaho, and re-reported by the Idaho Mountain Express. Plus, CBS Sunday Morning recorded the meeting in Phoenix of the fire chief with his biological siblings.

His biological family was of Lithuanian-Jewish and French-Canadian ancestry. As a Johnson, he went through life thinking he was Irish-American.

A logical question, left unanswered in this reporting, is whether Johnson will become Reibman?


Staff housing cosmopolitan at high-end hotel in Whistler

WHISTLER, B.C. – In addition to the Syrian family of five who arrived in Whistler in 2016, eight more refugees, from both Syria and Afghanistan, to make their homes in Whistler.

A luxury mountain resort town is nearly another planet when compared to the war-torn Mideast, points out Pique Newsmagazine. But so far, at least on the surface, it looks like a splendid success.

Five of the eight new residents have jobs at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, where they work in housekeeping. They live in staff housing.

One of the refugees, 30-year-old Murhaf Ghaibour, spent years living in Lebanon, sometimes illegally, while awaiting resettlement. He says he likes the international makeup of the staff housing and, for that matter, the resort altogether.

Two of his roommates are from England and one from India. “So I don’t seem like a stranger,” he explained. “Everyone came from someplace else, so I don’t feel like – how to say?—like I’m in special conditions. I just feel like I’m like everyone here.”


Crystals at Jackson Hole intended to aid healing

JACKSON, Wyo. – Two crystals can be found at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, an attempt to produce healing and protectiveness at the resort. They were placed there last winter indirectly because of the retirement of Jerry Blann, the long-term chief executive of the ski area.

“We named a (run) after him, Jerry’s Way, but that got me thinking: what would I want as my legacy on the mountain?” Connie Kemmerer, the resort’s co-owner, told the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

About the same time, she was introduced to Marta Barreras, a Hawaii-based feng shui master who had worked since 2015 with Rob Deslauriers. Deslauriers is a ski mountaineer of note (he has skied from the summit of Mt. Everest) and a real estate agent in Jackson Hole, a valley frequented by an uncommon number of billionaires. He also is a crystal user.

One thing led to another and ultimately a smoky quartz, a stone believed to help with letting go, was placed at Solitude Station, a two-minute ride up the gondola from the base. The larger crystal, a 3,000-pound chunk of milky white quartz, mined in Brazil, was located at the base, called Teton Village. It is supposed to help relieve distress.

Kathie Chandler, who uses crystals in a holistic healing practice at Wilson, a hamlet near the ski area, tells the News&Guide that she believes she has detected a different energy in Teton Village since the crystals were placed there. “They’re intensely powerful and intensely huge.”


New electrical transmission line must go underground

KETCHUM, Idaho – Blaine County, which includes Sun Valley and Ketchum, is telling an electricity utility that it can build a redundant transmission line along the state highway leading to the resort community only if the transmission line is buried. This would add $34.5 million to the cost.

Where does that money come from? The Idaho Mountain Express identifies a number of possible sources, but even in a valley as well-heeled as Ketchum and Sun Valley, the price tag seems to be causing eyelashes to bat.

The line is needed to provide redundancy to the existing transmission, such as if a plane crashed into that existing line.

Colorado has a parallel issue about undergrounding and cost in a case near Vail. There, Holy Cross Energy, the local electrical co-operative, needs to build a new transmission line through Minturn and to a substation at Gilman, an old mining camp. Holy Cross has agreed to underground the line through much of Minturn, but the question remains of just how much. Some of the line will cross U.S. Forest Service property.


After a big fire, figuring out electrical resilience

BASALT, Colo. – Brain-storming has begun in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley after a 12,500-acre fire that nearly caused Snowmass Village, portions of Aspen, and all the surrounding areas to lose electricity on the July Fourth weekend last year.

The Lake Christine Fire had taken out three transmission lines, and flames were licking up a wooden pole of the fourth and final transmission line near Basalt when firefighters arrived.

Holy Cross Energy, the primary electrical co-operative, has partnered with Rocky Mountain Institute to explore how to make the Aspen area more resilient not just in the event of wildfire but in many situations.

Consider gas pumps, which require electricity to operate. Could dedicated solar and battery storage be used to provide backup power, allowing customers to continue to pump gas during an outage.

Microgrids represent another opportunity. They would allow each community or neighborhood to retain power independently in the case of a grid power outage. The project will likely focus on designing a pilot microgrid in a small region that already contains generating assets, such as near a solar farm. For example, a solar farm is proposed in the Woody Creek area east of Aspen, where the writer Hunter Thompson used to hang out.

In a post, the Rocky Mountain Institute pointed out that resilience is not just about emergency preparedness, but also should take into account a range of considerations from blue sky to black-sky days. This core concept was reflected in many of the ideas that were developed at a workshop conducted in early April.

Many first responders and other community organizations reported having diesel or natural gas backup generators. This provides an effective and simple way of ensuring the lights stay on, but most stakeholders reported they only get used about 30 minutes in a typical year. Solar coupled with storage could be used year round, not just for emergencies.

Another example of resiliency, according to RMI, is improved energy efficiency. Making buildings more efficient lessens the electricity needed to keep them up and running during an emergency or outage.

This was the first principle espoused by RMI founder Amory Lovins beginning after the Arab oil embargoes of the 1970s. He founded RMI in the service territory of Holy Cross Energy, at Old Snowmass. RMI offices several years ago were moved to a state-of-the-art building in Basalt. It is very, very energy efficient.


Whistler updates evacuation plans amid worries of wildfire

WHISTLER, B.C. – Temperatures soared in British Columbia last week, scuttling old records and sparking worries of sparks, cigarette butts, and whatever else might start a forest fire.

In Whistler, municipal officials issued a warning that the fire danger was expected to climb to “extreme.” It was a new reminder to homeowners to move combustibles at least 10 meters away from homes and take other measures to retard wildfire, if it should occur.

The community has been working on revising its evacuation plan, not just for wildfire, although that is the most immediate concern. Since 2014 the resort community has had what the emergency planning coordinator described as a “fairly robust” plan.

But that plan did not contemplate need for a mass evacuation. The new plan does. On a peak summer day, nearly 49,000 people would have to be evacuated, of whom 17,000 would be without cars. On peak winter days, Whistler has 53,000 people. Of them, almost 22,000 would be without cars.

Average days, the numbers sag: 33,000 would have to be evacuated, and they would have access to 12,700 vehicles.

The valley has been spliced into 29 evacuation zones, with six sites, called muster points, where people could arrive and expect to be picked up by buses.

In Colorado, Pitkin County commissioners meeting in Aspen have agreed to a perpetual summer fireworks ban. The issue will have to be revisited each year, but Sheriff Joe DiSalvo seems to think that lifting the bean because there is so much moisture will be the exception. Danger is now a constant threat every summer.

“This is the new normal,” he said at a meeting covered by The Aspen Times.

A study by scientists on the West Coast has come to the same conclusion about a new normal. Their research, published in Nature Communications, found that forest fires are causing snow to melt earlier in the season, a trend across the Western U.S. that may affect water supplies and, in turn, trigger even more fires.

They found that more than 11 percent of all forests in the West are currently experiencing early snowmelt. The snow is melting an average 5 days earlier after a fire, but the accelerated timing of the snowmelt will continues for as many as 15 years.

Kelly Gleason, of Portland State University, explained that the shade provided by the tree canopy gets removed by a fire, allowing more sunshine to hit the snow. More important, the soot – also known as black carbon – and the charred wood, bark, and debris left behind from a fire darkens the snow and lowers its reflectiveness, called albedo.

In the last 20 years, the amount of energy absorbed by snowpack because of fires across the West has grown four-fold.


Annoyances fester at hut high in Rocky Mountains

BANFF, Alberta – Abbot Pass Hut, a picturesque stone building that sits high in the Rocky Mountains of Banff National Park, has been a refuge for hardcore climbers since its construction in 1922. Now, it’s drawing a new category of users, hikers who see it not as a launching place but instead as a destination.

Conflicts have been brewing, representatives of the Alpine Club of Canada tell the Rocky Mountain Outlook. “Not everybody is there for the same reasons … so it’s better not to party,” explained Peter Hoang, of the Alpine Club. Climbers, he added, sometimes start their day at 2 a.m.

The problem seems to be sufficient that the Alpine Club has been sending people to the huts to explain, more or less, what the etiquette is.


A record price for land sale at entrance to Banff

CANMORE, Alberta – Two residential lots along the Bow River in Canmore, at the gateway to Banff National Park, recently sold for $6 million.

That’s believed to be a record for residential land in Canmore, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook. The previous high-market was $4.3 million at a site being redeveloped into townhouses and condos.

These two vacant lots have 210 feet of river view frontage as well as unencumbered views of Mount Lady Macdonald. Of course, there are no bad views in Canmore.


Guardrails coming after 2 deaths at Inspiration Point

KREMMLING, Colo. – If you want to follow the Colorado River down from its origins in Rocky Mountain National Park and are driving, you have to take a detour at the Gore Range.

The river flows through Gore Canyon, where the river drops 300 feet in just three miles, the steepest increment drop of the Colorado River after it leaves the national park, according to a 1968 U.S. Geological Survey report. A road was chiseled into the 1,000-foot-tall canyon walls in 1906, but there’s too little room for a road, too.

Instead, you need to get on the Trough Road, which crosses the range in relatively gentle fashion. Emerging on the west side, though, there’s an impressive view at a site called, appropriately enough, Inspiration Point.

Last winter two people died when they missed the corner and tumbled down the steep slope. In response, reports the Sky-Hi News, Grand County plans to install 730 feet of guard rail.


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