Mountain Town News: Paper or plastic? |

Mountain Town News: Paper or plastic?

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

Avalanche debris blocks mountain trails, roads

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Debris and damage from avalanches continues to block mountain paths and roads in Colorado, the residue of an uncommonly snowy winter.

Pearl Pass Road across the Elk Range, between Aspen and Crested Butte, may not be open at all this year. One of the slides that tumbled down into Castle Creek often does so, if not as wildly as it did this year, taking out aspen trees. But another massive slide punched a new path through a forest of spruce trees. Some were 100 feet high and may have been 200 years old.

All these giant sticks along with still melting snow remains at the bottom of the slopes, covering the road. There were also several slides above that monster. Pitkin County, however, will put little, if any, effort to getting the road open this summer, because of higher priorities, reports The Aspen Times.

Carl Buckingham, who seems to wear the title of mayor of Pearl Pass, although there is no town or even hamlet along the way, tells the Times that the road is “one of the classic, hard-core Colorado four-wheel-drive trails. It’s well used.”

In the Bear Creek Valley, the backdrop for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, the hiking trail remains blocked and will likely remain that way for some time. You can smell the cause of this blockade well before getting here: the powerful scent of acres and acres of fresh-hewn pine, reports Suzanne Cheavens of the Telluride Daily Planet. Lingering in mid-June was compacted snow, 20-foot-deep, thick with wood.

“Trees—both aspens and conifers—are snapped like toothpicks everywhere you look, and an expanse of snow blanketed in pine needles and boughs stretches over the trail for about the length of a city block,” she wrote.

A 6.5-mile path that runs parallel to Interstate 70 between Frisco and Copper Mountain also will likely remain blocked until probably mid-July. The pathway was buried under tons of debris in March, when all 23 chutes in Tenmile Canyon slid. The debris piles range from a few feet to up to more than 20 feet for a mile.

The path is part of an extensive network of bicycle trails that would allow a person to pedal from Dillon and Breckenridge across Vail Pass and to Glenwood Canyon. The Vail Pass segment has been cleared.

Other roads have opened but belatedly. That includes Kebler Pass, near Crested Butte, which opened on June 13. But there have been later openings. In 1995, it remained closed until June. Two years prior to that, it remained closed to June 22, Marlene Crosby, the Gunnison County public works director, tells the Crested Butte News.

Paper or plastic? Debate about ill effects continues

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Crested Butte’s ban on plastic bags has gone relatively smoothly since it went into effect in September 2018, reports the Crested Butte News.

Prodded by a student from Crested Butte Community School, the town adopted the ban in 2016. But the ban is described by the news as a soft one. For example, some businesses were given extensions until April, to use previously purchased bags.

What sets Crested Butte apart from some other towns with plastic bans has been a program called Boomerang Ban. Businesses get handcrafted bags that can be used, reused and returned by customers. The stores give them out to customers, with the understanding they will be returned. Not all are. But there is the option of paper bags, at a nickel – which some stores will swallow.

That brings up the question of paper or plastic? Which has the greater environmental harm? Paper bags require more energy to produce. A U.K. study found that, to have a reduced global warming impact from single-use plastic bags, a cotton bag would have to be used 131 times. That said, cotton bags do biodegrade, unlike plastic, and rarely end up in the stomachs of whales or festooned on barbed wire fences like petrochemical prayer flags.

In Canada, that debate didn’t deter Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from announcing that his government will ban single-use plastics in Canada, possibly by 2021. This ban includes not only bags, but also straws and cutlery. “The federal government is moving forward on a science-based approach to establishing which harmful single-use plastics we will be eliminating as of 2021,” said Trudeau.

In Whistler, Arthur De Jong believes that that opens the door for Whistler to levy a plastic-bag ban by summer’s end. “Whistler is beginning to look a bit of a laggard on banning single-use plastic,” De Jong told Pique Newsmagazine. “It’s time to move on this.”

Unlike mountain towns in Colorado, California, and other states, Whistler felt hemmed in by provincial laws that precluded local authority. Idaho has a similar preemption of local authority.

New efforts to harness the energy of tumbling water

WHITEFISH, Mont. – Reconstruction of an old, abandoned hydroelectric generation facility at Whitefish in 2012 will have paid for itself this year, 15 months ahead of the original estimate. This has motivated the city’s public works department to look at other possible places where electricity can be generated from water flows.

“It would be hard to find a place that would have the same output as this one, but we’ve looked at where else we could put one,” Craig Workman, the public works director, told the Whitefish Pilot.

The existing hydro system was first installed at the reservoir built for needs of the city’s water treatment plant reservoir in 1983, but was damaged twice. The first time, debris damaged the Pelton wheel. The second time, a lightning strike damaged the generator.

Electricity from the hydro project goes to Flathead Electric Co-op, which paid $400,000 in advance. Also helping get the project going was a $200,000 federal grant.

In Colorado, Gunnison County Electric Association has allocated $1 million to install a hydroelectric generator on Taylor Dam, which is in the Sawatch Range near Crested Butte. The 200-kilowatt generation is the amount needed for the round-the-clock minimum releases of water required at the dam.

Bart Laemell, a director of the co-operative, says the plans call for expansion to be able otto generate up to 4 megawatts, or 20 times the capacity. The dam operated by Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association was built to benefit farmers in the Montrose and Delta areas.

A herd of antlered people show up for tax meeting

JACKSON, Wyo. – Some 50 people showed up at a recent meeting in Jackson, some with headdress. You might call them horny people, but the intent was to represent antlers, such as what you see on deer, elk, and moose.

The subject was how to apportion proceeds of a proposed 1 percent sales tax increase that would yield $62 million. Elected officials in Jackson and Teton County have a firm idea of how they want to spend $57 million. The largest sum would go to expansion of the recreation center, described by one speaker as “bursting at its seams.” They also think money needs to go to wildland fire equipment and stormwater infrastructure, among other purposes.

But that leaves little money for many would-like-to-have projects. High on the list is highway wildlife crossings. The current cost estimate is $15 million. One idea is to give just half of that, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

And that’s where the antlered people came in. The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports that one of them, Melissa Wandursky recalled for officials sitting with a doe as it died in her yard after colliding with a vehicle.

“To see the fear in that animal’s eyes as it was suffering as probably one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do,” she said.

Wyoming wildlife officials also support the crossings. What is envisioned could be a mixture of crossings, such as in Colorado across Highway 9, between Silverthorne and Kremmling, and even more prominently in Alberta, between Banff and Lake Louise, but also fencing.

The Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation says the $15 million would be the minimum required to complete two of the highest priority crossings as well as provide temporary solutions, purchase easements, and cover engineering costs at other, still other sites.

The foundation reports that upward of 180 larger animals get killed on highways in Jackson Hole each year. Three years ago, 265 mule deer, 46 elk, and 18 moose died.

Farm-to-toke rule for Steamboat pot sales

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Perhaps singularly among Colorado’s towns and cities that authorize sale of cannabis, Steamboat Springs has a farm-to-table component. In Steamboat, it’s called vertical integration.

Under a former law, each dispensary must produce or manufacture 70% of its own products, and this must occur within the city. A new city law lowers that requirement to 50%, reports the Steamboat Pilot.

The new percentage was approved as part of a broader revision in regulations governing marijuana sales in Steamboat. The original legislation allowed only three cannabis stores and tightly limited their locations. The revision now being approved will allow up to 6 cannabis stores and in more areas of Steamboat, including the tourist-friendly downtown as well as near the base of the Steamboat Resort.

Vail’s plans for getting the international visitors back

BROOMFIELD, Colo. – Vail Resorts reported a 14.3% increase in the number of visitors, producing a tidy bump in net income for its all-important winter quarter. The quarter ending in April produced $292.1 million, up from $256.3 million for the same period the year before.

The mammoth ski company doesn’t release skier numbers of individual resorts, but according to remarks made by Rob Katz, the chief executive, at an investor briefing in early June, there was “relative weakness” in international visitation at Whistler Blackcomb, disappointing destination visitation in the pre-Christmas period, and shortfalls from expectations at both Tahoe resorts and Whistler.

That background described by Katz is that of an “incredible growth trajectory” over the last four or five years at Whistler, which the company acquired in 2016. That growth moderated this year. Katz said that Vail has “a number of plans that will be in place next year to bring back some of that business that didn’t come this year” to Whistler.

He suggested one component will be to match up Australian skiers with Whistler via the company’s Epic Pass. Vail recently acquired two resorts in Australia.

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