Mountain Town News: Jury to decide Jackson pond skimming lawsuit |

Mountain Town News: Jury to decide Jackson pond skimming lawsuit

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

Searing memories a year after the fire in Colorado

BASALT, Colo. – Basalt and El Jebel are changed places a year after the scare of the Lake Christine Fire. Three houses were destroyed by the 12,500-acre fire. Nobody died, although one firefighter was still being treated for injuries in May. It could have been much worse.

The fire began on the evening of July 3. Two mornings after, the Roaring Fork Valley was a “vision of hell,” says Scott Condon, a resident of the area, writing in The Aspen Times.

“Smoke clogged the air and was lit orange by the flames. Ashes rained down. Sirens wailed and there was a constant popping from natural and man-made materials consumed by the flames.”

Luck spared the community a much worse conflagration. Had conventional wind patterns prevailed, 100 homes could easily have been lost.

A mobile home at El Jebel was at particular risk. A vegetation reduction project on federal lands east of the trailer park undertaken several years before helped. And then the mobile home park was spared because of a somewhat risky strategy. Fire flares were used to create a fire line. There was no margin for error. No error occurred. This saved 200 homes.

The fire was started at a shooting range near El Jebel. A young woman shot a tracer round that burst through a paper target. Wikipedia explains that tracer rounds can have a mild incendiary effect, igniting flammable substances on contact. It had been a drought winter, and the brush was tinder dry. The brush exploded into wildfire.

The Aspen Daily News reports that the woman and her boyfriend were sentenced last week after hearing what some of those who suffered losses in the fire had to say. The words were hard, the anger and sorrow still fresh and deep.

“The Lake Christine Fire took my home and my security with a hellacious vengeance,” said Andee McCauley. She and her husband, Bill, lost their home. She talked of the “sheer terror of evacuation” as the fire flowed “like molten lava” down the ridge to their home.

She said she continues to grieve for the loss of her grandfather’s handwritten journals dating from the late 1800s, her grandmother’s pearls, her father’s violin, art, furniture, family photos, and a large collection of tools.

The Daily News’s Chad Abraham reported the two defendants showed little emotion until they addressed the judge. Then they struggled to hold back tears.

Allison Marcus, 22, the woman who shot the rounds that started the fire, said she had not realized she was shooting tracer rounds. “I would not have done so if I had recognized the risk I had created.”

Her boyfriend, Richard Miller, 23, haltingly told the judge that he also didn’t know that the tracer rounds were in the ammunition tin. “I really wish I had looked and recognized tracer rounds were in the ammo tin. I am sorry.”

The Daily News reports that each must perform 1,500 hours of community service, pay $100,000 in restitution, and spend 45 nights in jail.

“The two of you are now part of the history of this valley,” Judge Paul Dunkelman said. “That’s a huge responsibility to be part of the history of a valley like this. But you haven’t written the last chapter.”

That last chapter, he suggested, will be whether their actions in the future reflect their words of contrition at sentencing.

Winter Park crimps plastic bags. Next up: Steamboat

WINTER PARK, Colo. – Shoppers in Winter Park must now pay 20 cents per plastic bag when checking out at most retail stores or use their own.

The law that went into effect July 1 was modeled closely on the disposal bag fee adopted by the neighboring municipality of Fraser in 2018. The town gets 60% of the revenues and retailers 40%.

Retailers consulted by the Sky-Hi News say they’ve received no pushback. “Most people are carrying something with them, so I think the word has spread quickly,” said Kelly Driscoll, manager of Moose Hollow Trading Co.

Branded reusable bags will be provided to rental properties, for those coming from out of town without their own bags.

Ninety-five miles farther west on U.S. 40 in Steamboat Springs, a bag law will take effect Oct. 1. No plastic bags will be given out by Walmart, Walgreen and the other large stores, and a 20-cent fee will be charged for paper bags. Grocery stores can still use plastic bags for produce and meat, fish and seafood.

In British Columbia, municipal officials in Whistler hope to enact a ban on free distribution of plastic bags later this summer now that Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau has indicated federal action will be forthcoming as soon as 2021. That federal ban might also include the knives, forks and spoons given out at eateries as well as plastic straws.

Writing in Whistler’s Pique Newsmagazine, editor Clare Ogilvie advocates adding plastic bottles to the thou-shalt-not list. The municipality has banned distribution of bottled water at facilities it manages since 2012. Make the ubiquitous bottles anything but that, she urges.

Why limit personal freedom? She points to the accumulating evidence of plastic polluting water, not just in big clumps in the Pacific, but in microscopic particles in drinking water.

Only 9% of plastic generated in Canada actually gets recycled. In Whistler, 50% of waste gets diverted from the landfill.

Jurors will have to decide in pond-skimming case

JACKSON, Wyo. – A jury will be given the task of deciding whether an injury suffered at the “pond skim” in 2017 was the result of negligence by Snow King Mountain Resort, the in-town ski area in Jackson.

The skier, still a minor, had skied across the pond several times when he agreed with friends to be part of a ‘rowdy train,” in which all ski down together.

“As he tried to exit the pond, another skier in the rowdy train skied across (the boy’s) left leg,’ the lawsuit says. “The edge of that ski cut (the victim’s) leg, severing muscle, tendon and nerve. He now suffers ‘drop foot.’”

The parents of the boy, who filed the lawsuit, must prove that their son’s risk was not an inherent one to skiing, explains the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

14 fallen firefighters at Storm King remembered

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – Twenty-five years ago strong winds accompanying a cold front pushed flames from a small fire in the oak brush on Storm King Mountain, located along the Colorado River west of Glenwood Springs. The fire killed 14 firefighters, including 12 in a small cluster who had too little time to deploy their potable shelters. Crosses mark the spots where they died.

On Saturday, Jim Roth was among those who gathered to remember the conflagration on July 6, 1994. The Glenwood Post Independent reports that he has been driven to use his training in aerospace engineering to help firefighters. His younger brother, Roger Roth, was a smokejumper from Idaho who perished at Storm King.

He designed a new kind of fire shelter, which didn’t end up being used, and later designed liners for fire trucks.

Those gathered also included Alex Robertson, who survived the fire and has continued to work in firefighting, now as a fire and aviation staff officer for an interagency fire office in Oregon.

“The challenge we have is that we cannot just not fight fire, we can’t not put people in harm’s way,” Robertson said. “If we didn’t fight fires, they would burn up towns, and people would lose lives. The challenge is deciding when it’s necessary to put firefighters in danger, and how.”

No. 1 tourist draw in Durango on the hot seat about wildfire

DURANGO, Colo. – The U.S. government last week filed a $25 million lawsuit against operators of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Daily during summer the train takes passengers to Silverton in cars pulled by smoke-belching coal-fired locomotives such as were used before mining slackened in the San Juan Mountains in the 1930s.

On June 1 last year, the train was making its daily run when embers from the locomotive landed on brush, parched from a remarkably dry winter in the San Juans. The 416 Fire blew up almost immediately and eventually blackened 54,000 acres, the sixth largest wildfire in Colorado’s recorded history. The Forest Service reported $25 million in suppression costs.

This is the second lawsuit filed against the train operator. A lawsuit filed last September on behalf of homeowners and businesses similarly found the railroad careless.

After the fire started last year, the railroad shut down for 41 days. During that time, the town’s economy took more than a $33 million hit. The railroad later announced purchase of two diesel-powered locomotives, to be used when fire conditions are ripe. A third locomotive will retrofitted to burn oil, instead of coal.

The Denver Post reported that Durango is sharply divided about the lawsuit. “They’re really foolish and short-sighted,” said Duane Smith, a historian in Durango. “For heaven’s sake, this is not the right solution.”

Without the railroad, he said, Durango is an isolated town with a small college.

Durango is isolated: almost four hours to Albuquerque, more than six hours from Denver, and a half-hour longer yet from Salt Lake City, according to Google Maps.

Can’t descendants of the South find better symbol?

BAYFIELD, Colo. – Somebody needs to figure out a different flag for people proud of being from the American South. The so-called Confederate flag comes just too loaded with history, most of it loathsome.

How about a flag with images of fried chicken and corn bread?

The repugnant flag was in the news again in Southwestern Colorado, where a group called Rocky Mountain Confederate Conservation entered a float in the July 4th parade in Bayfield, a town 20 miles east of Durango.

The Durango Herald cited a Facebook page for the group that insists it “does not support “violence, racism or hate against any persons.” The group believes the flag signifies support of Confederate heritage and “powerful Southern Pride.”

The flag was one of several created during the Civil War and originated to represent the Army of Northern Virginia. The war was about the right to self-determination of Southern states, more specifically whether they could expand what slaveholders called their “peculiar institution” westward into New Mexico, Arizona and eventually the Pacific. Colorado, too, for that matter.

Later, the flag became the symbol of the Ku Klux Klan and also segregationists who wanted to protect Jim Crow laws, points out Yes, the Confederate flag is a symbol of the South, but of ugly elements of Southern history.

The float in Bayfield had 8 people, followed by a protest entry of 30 to 35 people. The two groups remained civil, an observer told the Herald.

Why Pitkin County wants to discourage tobacco use

ASPEN, Colo. – Pitkin County commissioners have directed staff members in charge of public health to move forward with policies that would discourage tobacco use by youth.

Flavored nicotine products would be banned and no tobacco could be sold to those who are under 21. In addition, the commissioners favor a new tax on tobacco. The tax would require a public vote, which could occur in November, reports the Aspen Daily News.

Colorado has a new state law that gives counties the same authority to regulate products containing nicotine that home-rule municipalities already had.

Aspen already adopted an additional $3 sales tax on every pack of cigarettes and bumped the minimum age for purchase from 18 to 21. Aspen also adopted a 40% tax on all other tobacco or nicotine products, including vaping pens and e-cigarettes. Aspen in June also banned flavored tobacco products.

Ten stores in unincorporated Pitkin County – where Aspen is located –sell tobacco.

One health survey found that e-cigarette use among Aspen High School students is higher than the Colorado average, and the Colorado average is said to be highest in the United States.

A memo given to commissioners argued that nicotine is a gateway drug. “Nicotine exposure during childhood and adolescence actually rewires brain development, predisposing youth to further addiction and disrupting learning, memory development and attention for the short- and long-term.”

The Aspen Daily News reports that commissioners were also told that state and federal governments spend more than $650 per household in Colorado related to smoking.

Some roads in San Juans still buried deep in snow

TELLURIDE, Colo. – In the days before the 4th of July, roads to some but not all of the high passes in the San Juan Mountains around Telluride were finally cleared of snow sufficient for use by motorized vehicles.

The Telluride Daily Planet reports Ophir Pass was opened but with cuts in the snowbank described by one outfitter as being 30 to 35 deep. Those using the four-wheel drive road will be able to see close at hand the force of an avalanche that ran 1,000 feet wide and 2,000 to 3,000 vertical feet.

With that done, work began on the road over 13,114-foot-high Imogene Pass, between Telluride and Ouray. After that comes Black Bear Pass, which is below 13,000 feet but which is said to be one of the scariest Jeep roads in Christendom.

Third most ever snowfall ever during Squaw’s 212-day season

SQUAW VALLEY, Calif. – Ski season is a wrap at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows after a 212-day season, the fourth longest in the history of Squaw.

Certainly there was good snow, but still 9 inches why of the 728 inches of two years ago and well short of the record 810 inches set 8 seasons ago, reports the Sierra Sun.

No more time for sleep at electrical co-op meetings

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – With so much change in the world of electrical generation, how could the director of any utility go to sleep in a meeting?

But in 2001, when Pat McClelland became a director of the Steamboat Springs-based Yampa Valley Electric Association, that sort of thing happened. It was a different time.

“When I got on the board in 2001, the GM (general manager) ran the company and the board of directors were just ‘yes’ men,” said McClelland. “They’d been on the board for 30-plus years,” he told The Steamboat Pilot. “Some would sleep during meetings. It was ridiculous.”

The Pilot reports that members of the electrical co-operative approved a bylaw change that allows a director to file a formal complaint that could lead to the removal of another director if deemed appropriate.

McClelland chose not to run for re-election, the better to get new blood on the board, in his words. Electrical consumers, which in a co-op are also members, chose Sonja Macys to replace him. She’s also a member of the Steamboat Springs City Council.

Macys began attending board meetings of the co-op 10 years ago. She also helped the co-op develop a rebate program that encourages energy efficiency and also helped promote the co-op’s first community solar garden.

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