Mountain Town News: Driverless cars coming. Are ski towns ready for them? |

Mountain Town News: Driverless cars coming. Are ski towns ready for them?

Grand Lake grocery plans to curb use of plastic bags

GRAND LAKE, Colo. – A grocer in Grand Lake, at the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, plans to phase out the use of most plastic bags this summer.

“I have been talking about doing it for years. It was time to put up or shut up,” said Brenda Schoenherr, co-owner of the Mountain Food Market.

She told the Sky-Hi News the response has been positive. “I would say 90 percent of people who see my little note about it give me fist bumps, high-fives, or atta-girls,” she said.

Grand County has six towns, and none have taken action against distribution of free plastic shopping bags. Just the county’s two largest stores, a Safeway in Fraser and a City Market in Granby, together distribute two million bags each year, according to a 2016 study by the county. In Colorado, an estimated 2 billion disposable bags are distributed to shoppers.

Lately, an activist group called Infinite West has been showing the film “Bag It!” and stared talking with local officials. Fraser, the old railroad town, might adopt only a 10-cent fee, stopping short of a ban.

Jeff Durbin, the Fraser town manager, said that a modest fee would encourage people to take their own bags. But for those who elect to pay the fee, that money could be used to help buy down the cost of recycling program in Fraser.

Still a consideration is that the fee will encourage customers to instead buy groceries in Winter Park, 2 miles away, or in Granby, 14 miles away. The town naturally wants shoppers to buy their groceries at the store in Fraser, with the sales tax going to Fraser town coffers.

Avon is the most recent Colorado town to limit distribution of plastic bags. Its ban went into effect May 1. Telluride was the first Colorado town, and it has been followed by Aspen, Boulder, Breckenridge, Carbondale, and Vail. Basalt’s elected officials adopted a ban. However, the ban was overturned by voters. The margin was 17 votes.

Supreme Court upholds Aspen’s fee for paper bags

ASPEN, Colo. – In 2011, the Aspen City Council adopted a law that prohibits grocery stores from providing disposable plastic bags to customers. Grocery stores may still provide paper bags to customers, but at a cost of 20 cents.

Aspen adopted the fee after considering a San Francisco study that shows the cost of subsidizing the recycling, collection and disposal of plastic and paper bags there was 17 cents a bag. Aspen nudged the figure to 20 cents based on its distance to recycling markets, the smaller size of its waste stream, and community input.

But is this fee in violation of Colorado’s constitutional amendment, called the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR, that prohibits tax increases without direct consent of voters?

No, the Colorado Supreme Court said on Monday in a 4-3 ruling that upheld a lower-court ruling. But there were dissenting opinions. “In all meaningful respects, Aspen’s ‘waste reduction fee’ is in the nature of, and functions entirely as, a ‘sin tax,’” said one of the dissenting opinions.

Said another dissenting justice: “Tempting though it may be to provide a reprieve to local governments seemingly hamstrung at times by the strictures of TABOR, that policy decision is not ours to make. Because the bag charge is a tax, the voter approval requirement of TABOR applies.”

Kochs ultimate owners of Aspen Food & Wine Festival

ASPEN, Colo. – In liberal-leaning circles, the name Koch brothers inspire loathing and maybe fear. The billionaire brothers from Wichita, Kansas, distribute their money in ways designed to advance their conservative thinking.

In liberal-leaning Aspen, the name Koch is already attached to a building on the campus of the Aspen institute. David Koch is a trustee at the institute and a familiar figure at the Aspen Ideas Festival held in late June each year.

Now, the name Koch will be in the background of the town’s annual Food & Wine Classic. Food & Wine Magazine, owners of the eponymously named festival, has been sold to the Kochs as part of a $2.8 billion deal. Time Inc. had been the owner, but Des Moines-based Meredith Corp. now owns the magazine, and the Kochs bought the chain.

A publicist for the magazine tells the Aspen Daily News that the change in ownership will not affect the festival in any way.

The three-day weekend event each June attracts 5,000 at a cost of $1,700 each. It started as a home-grown event before being sold to American Express, which in turn sold its publishing arm to Time Inc. in 2013.

Driverless cars coming. Are ski towns ready for them?

WHISTLER, B.C. – Driverless cars will be coming soon. Is your community ready for them?

That was the gist of a recent presentation at a conference in Whistler. Lawyer Don Lidstone cited a projection by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Technology that only half of the people who currently own vehicles will still own one in 12 years.

“The cost of owning vs. operating will be dramatic,” he explained. “If you own, it will cost more than twice as much than if you just order a vehicle every time you want a limousine.”

“There will be a massive change in the need for public transit, public transportation, and interconnectivity with driverless vehicles,” he added.

Town and cities will have to completely rethink their planning. Instead of curbs, lanes, and signals, the planning must now consider how the cars will talk to the infrastructure. He also said that government agencies will have to figure out regulations governing self-driving cars.

Vail-area employers want access to foreign laborers

VAIL, Colo. – The seasonal immigrant laborers working under the federal government’s H-2B visa program haven’t arrived yet to Vail and the Eagle Valley. In March, Congress approved an increase in the number of visas issued, but the Trump administration has delayed issuing new visas. The number of visas had been capped at 33,000 every six months.

Local landscaping and paving contractors who depend upon seasonal workers tell the Vail Daily they wish that the federal government would hurry up.

Mike Stephens, who has a nursery and landscaping company, said he’s missing about 20 people. He says he would hire American citizens, but “they’re just not out there.”

Michael Hasse, who owns an asphalt and coatings company, tells the Vail Daily the same story. He won’t hire illegal immigrants but he also finds it hard to find American workers, and it’s become worse in this booming economy, with low unemployment rates.

Santa Fe tops Sun Valley as hottest second-home market

SANTA FE, N.M – Christie’s International Real Estate has proclaimed Santa Fe as the world’s “hottest” second-home market in 2017.

Published last week, the company’s “Luxury Thermometer” found that Santa Fe topped Muskoka, Ontario, the weekend getaway site for well-heeled people from Toronto, as well as Sarasota, Fla; Sun Valley, Idaho; and the Bahamas.

The Christie’s report did not identify the criteria used for appointing Santa Fe with the distinction of “hottest” among hundreds of potential candidates. It also did not define what constitutes a luxury home, nor did the report identify the criteria it used in plucking Santa Fe. However, David Barker, owner of the Christie’s affiliate in Santa Fe, told the Albuquerque Journal that homes selling for $1 million or more would constitute luxury. By that measure, there were 158 luxury sales in 2017.

Barker estimated that half of luxury homes sold in Santa Fe are used as second homes.

The report also said that Monaco, with an average price of $6 million for second homes, tops the world residential market. Down the list somewhat were Sun Valley at $3.3 million, Telluride at $2.4 million, Park City at $2.2 million, and Big Sky at $1.8 million. Average prices at Santa Fe were $1.6 million.

As is common in such reports, the Christie’s document said that for the world’s wealthiest individuals, a luxury residential purchase remains a lower-risk and higher-reward investment, especially as compared with the volatility of the stock market.

Who has the money? Worldwide there are 1,083 billionaires who are of the baby boomer generation, aged 54 through 72. But millenials are starting to make a dent: there are now 43 millennial billionaires, those aged 22 through 37.

Talk of reintroducing wolves makes its way to Durango

DURANGO, Colo. – Talk of restoring wolves to Colorado returned to Durango over the weekend with several presentations by the new Rocky Mountain Wolf Project.

“We’re the only state in the Rocky Mountains that doesn’t have wolves, for various reasons,” said Mike Wilson, a member of the group. He said the project began forming in 2016. “For the last 8 to 10 years, various groups have been trying to restore gray wolves to Colorado,” he told the Durango Telegraph. “The idea was to get all the interested groups working together.”

Wolves were extirpated from Colorado in the 1940s, probably somewhere along the New Mexico border. However, wolves descended from the three packs transplanted into the Yellowstone area in the mid-1990s have been loping back into Colorado since at least 2004. Mexican gray wolves, a sub-species of the gray wolves from Yellowstone, have been released along the New Mexico-Arizona border. There has been some speculation that Mexican wolves will, if they haven’t already, start crossing into Colorado.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission in 2016 voted against a resolution that would have supported wolf reintroduction. However, a few months later, the state agency did issue a press release acknowledging it was time to prepare for the eventual recolonizing of Colorado by wolves.

Study finds that climate change played a role in Sierra drought

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Climate modelers have been confident of their projections for broad areas, such as continents or regions, such as the Great Plains. Mountains pose a greater challenge. The vertical topography creates microclimates that can only partially be replicated by even the most powerful computers.

But researchers from the University of California Los Angeles recently took more than a year to model the predicted impacts on the Sierra Nevada. The study by UCLA’s Center for Climate Science concluded that springtime temperatures by the century’s end will be 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than they are today and snowmelt runoff will come 50 days earlier—if greenhouse gas emissions continue to pile up in the atmosphere as they have been. If the global civilization can figure out how to tame the emissions, the warming might only be half as much.

In an interview with Water Deeply, researcher Neil Berg said the middle ranges of the Sierra Nevada, around 5,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation, will be the most vulnerable to warming temperatures.

“Those middle elevations tend to be located where that freezing line, that 32 degree Fahrenheit line, lies within the Sierra Nevada,” he said.

Even small changes in temperatures of 1 to 3 degrees significantly changes the type of precipitation in mid-elevation, he said, producing more rain and less snow. The highest elevations, above 8,000 feet, are so high that they in many cases will remain sheltered from even a significant amount of warming in the future.

The base area of Squaw Mountain is 6,200 feet, that of Heavenly 6,255 feet, and Northstar is 6,330 feet. Kirkwood is a little higher, with a base elevation of 7,800 feet. Higher yet is Mammoth Mountain, with a base elevation of 9,000 feet.

Perhaps the most surprising outcome of the study was the drought of several years ago would have been much less severe without the absence of warming already underway. The atmosphere has already warmed 1.8 to 3.6 degrees F. The researchers concluded the snowpack would have been about 25 percent more during the drought had there not also been the warmth.

“It’s a pretty significant finding to say that in the last drought climate change removed a quarter of the snowpack in the Sierra,” Berg told Water Deeply.

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