Mountain Town News: Styrofoam bans, Olympic math and saving the slopes |

Mountain Town News: Styrofoam bans, Olympic math and saving the slopes

Allen Best
Park Record contributing writer

Tahoe town moving toward ban of polystyrene products

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Elected officials in South Lake Tahoe last week endorsed sweeping restrictions on the sale and distribution of polystyrene products.

Polystyrene is used to make containers for many food and drinks, including straws but also coffee cups. Styrofoam is a brand name of one kind of polystyrene foam.

Five council members agreed unanimously of the need for restrictions on products such as are used in fast-food restaurants as well as foam-plastic coolers sold in stores.

Exempted will be food that has already arrived at stores packaged in polystyrene, such as pre-packaged noodle soups sold in foam cups in grocery stores. Polystyrene used in packaging meats at grocery stores will also be exempted.

The city, located at the base of the Heavenly ski area, is the only municipality along the shores of the lake, but it hopes to persuade other jurisdictions to take similar measures. Three counties also have governance over the lake.

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As of last week, 114 local governments in California have adopted restrictions on polystyrene. Scores more in other coastal states from Washington to Maine to Texas have also adopted restrictions.

Avon, Colo., at the base of Beaver Creek Resort, is scheduled to take up possible restrictions in March.

Figuring out how to make the Olympics economically viable

WHISTLER, B.C. – As those of us enamored of snow and ice focus our attention on the Olympics in South Korea, questions continue about future Olympic venues.

The U.S. Olympic committee has ruled out bidding for the 2026 Winter Games for Denver, Salt Lake City, or Reno as host cities.

"It would make things extremely complicated from a financial standpoint with Los Angeles," Larry Probst, chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee, told USA Today last week. Los Angeles will host the 2028 Summer Games.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported last week that Utah will seek to host the 2030 games, but would accept 2026. A member of the Olympic Exploratory Committee told a crowd in Park City last week that both Deer Valley and Park City Mountain Resort have indicated they want to be part of the program if the Games return. They were held there in 2002.

That leaves Calgary as the only North American city still considering whether to throw its hat into the five interlaced rings for the 2026 Olympics, reported the Calgary Herald on Sunday.

Calgary, working with Canmore, near Banff National Park, hosted the Olympics in 1988.

But the cost of hosting the Olympics is again a quiet undercurrent to this year's competition.

Vancouver and Whistler hosted the 2010 Winter Games. It cost $4 billion directly and another $4 billion in infrastructure upgrades, such as in the highway between Whistler and Vancouver.

South Korea is spending $13 billion, points out Clare Ogilvie, editor of Whistler's Pique. But of that, $100 million is being spent for the stadium, to be used primarily for the opening and closing ceremonies. After that, it will be replaced with a smaller 4,000- to 10,000-seat arena with a museum.

Then there was Russia's extravagance, the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, where the bill added up to $50 billion. Many of the venues have gone unused since then.

Whistler, in contrast, at least gets use out of its Olympic venues, even if they're not real moneymakers. The bobsled and skeleton venues, for example, had 10,000 public slides in the 2016-17 season.

"But it is truly possible to host an event such as the Olympics as an one-off and not face economic peril? I would argue no," Ogilvie writes. "There is no expert in the world in any field who would suggest that hosting a mega-event, as one-time thing, is a recipe for success."

While athletes confront challenges on ski slopes and other venues, the broader challenge, she says, is to figure out how to keep the spirit of the Games alive without such extravagant costs.

Jackson filmmakers set out to tell story of ski town Latinos

JACKSON, Wyo. – Two filmmakers from Jackson have set out to create a documentary about the role that Latino immigrants to the United States play in ski towns. They are focusing on Jackson Hole in Wyoming, the Vail Valley in Colorado, and Mammoth in California.

In Teton County, otherwise known as Jackson Hole, Latinos make up 25 to 30 percent of the population. A 2015 survey found that 82 percent were from Mexico. Many are first-generation immigrants, some undocumented.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide says the aspiring filmmakers have raised $10,000 and hope to get $50,000. The working title is "The Quiet Force," taking the name of a story in Powder Magazine.

Increasing push in ski industry for shift to renewable energy

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, now part of the Alterra Mountain Co., have great ambitions. They want to leap into energy systems of the future, achieving 100 percent renewable energy by as early as December.

Working with Liberty Utilities, Squaw and Alpine are investigating new renewable energy generation but also energy storage for use in Olympic Valley, as the base area is called. Squaw was a prime venue for the 1960 Winter Olympics.

Ramped-up energy efficiency is also part of the program.

"We take accountability for our company's contribution to carbon dioxide, hence our longstanding and unyielding internal focus on reducing our overall footprint," said Andy Wirth, president and chief operating officer.

Liberty Utilities is also under pressure from South Lake Tahoe, the town about an hour away at the base of Heavenly, to advance renewable energy. The town has a goal of 100 percent renewable generation.

Liberty Utilities has a long way to go. Today just 25 percent of the power mix includes utilities, but it has been rapidly adding solar farms in Nevada.

Ambitions of Squaw and South Lake Tahoe may be bolstered by business developments in Colorado. There, the state's major investor-owned utility company, Xcel Energy, proposes early retirement of two aging coal-fired power plants, called Comanche I and II. The power is to be replaced by renewable energy and perhaps natural gas.

The units generate electricity for several ski areas, including the four in Summit County, plus Steamboat and also Vail and Beaver Creek plus the four ski areas owned by the Aspen Skiing Co., among others.

The Aspen Skiing Co. and Alterra together entered testimony in support of the early retirements. In his testimony, Auden Schendler of the Aspen Skiing Co. pointed out that rained every month of ski season last year. He also noted a report by the Aspen Global Change Institute that Aspen now has 23 fewer frost-free days than in 1980.

Shortening winters, he testified, threatens the business model for ski resorts. "Most run in deficit until spring break, which is crucial because it delivers much of the profit for the season," he wrote. "Lose spring and your business fails."

Breckenridge, the town, also has an interest in the proceedings. It also has a goal of 100 percent renewable generation in its electricity from Xcel Energy. Renewables today represent 29 percent of the total power mix, but the utility estimates that this will rise to 55 percent with its intentions of retiring the two Comanche units.

Most remarkable about the Colorado story is not the retirement of the old coal plants. That is happening at many places. But when Xcel asked for proposals, the prices of renewables were shockingly low. Even more than those low prices, though, were those prices that coupled renewables with energy storage. Low-priced storage eliminates the problem of intermittency found with wind and solar. That makes goals of 100 percent renewables more realistic.

But even if the two coal plants are closed by 2025, as is now proposed, both Vail and Aspen lifts would continue to be powered by so called "dirty" electricity. Holy Cross Energy, a supplier to both, owns a part of a new generating station, Comanche III, which began operations in 2010.

Coal mine near Steamboat gains, but long-term outlook is dim

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – If Steamboat Springs calls itself Ski Town USA and boasts of its many Olympians, you don't have to go far to find coal towns.

In those outlying communities of Oak Creek, Yampa, and Hayden, many people work at the Twentymile Mine, located 20 miles south of Steamboat Springs. The mine also provides a substantial tax base for the Soroco School District.

The mine is owned by Peabody Energy, which calls itself the world's largest private-sector coal company. It has stumbled in recent years, but emerged from bankruptcy last April and reports that it is doing well, part of an uptick for coal companies in the United States.

Twentymile had produced 3.3 million tons as of October last year, a substantial increase from the year before – but still far less than the 9.4 million tons produced in 2005, notes Steamboat Today.

U.S. coal mining increased last year in response to increased demand from Asia, mostly China. Coal prices in China spiked last year, explains the Washington Examiner, because a massive cyclone hampered production in Australia, a major supplier, leaving an opening for plentiful stocks of more expensive U.S. coal used for making steel.

The coal from near Steamboat isn't used for metallurgical purposes, but the health of Peabody – and hence property tax assessments to local schools as well as other local taxing districts – depends upon that global market.

Can Donald Trump take credit for this resurgence? Experts tell many publications that no, that's a reach. However, Luke Popovich, from the National Mining Association, says Trump's coal-friendly words and actions help. "At least we're not fighting our own government," he told the Examiner.

But the long-term prognosis for coal from the Twentymile and other mines is dim, as utilities shift to cheaper alternatives, especially natural gas but also renewables. "It's not solar or wind power that is cutting into the coal industry – but the explosion in natural gas as a result of fracking," Hans Daniels, chief executive of Doyle Trading Consultants, told Fortune.

Dark week for fans of stars as county rejects light ordinance

WESTCLIFFE, Colo. – Dark sky proponents in Colorado's Custer County had hoped to become the first international dark-sky reserve in North America certified by the International Dark-Sky Association.

They were buoyed in their effort by the great success of dark-sky designations for Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, the two adjoining towns in the Wet Mountain Valley.

It didn't happen, though. Idaho earned that distinction late last year for a broad swath of the state that includes the headwaters of the Salmon River as well as the land around Ketchum and Sun Valley.

But even being No. 2 may now be out of the question. Last week the local planning commission rejected a resolution to change the definition of light pollution.

Partly at issue has been the intensity of new energy efficient LED lights. With less energy, they produce more light, and more disruptive white light. Dark sky proponents in Custer County wanted to throttle down the color temperature to 3,000 Kelvin, a warmer and less intense light. A regular incandescent or Halogen light has a "color" of about 2,700 Kelvin. More industrial settings, such as the lights you often see on the sides of warehouses, use 5,000 Kelvin lights or even stronger.

John Barentine, director of conservation for the International Dark-Sky Association, says removing all reference to light pollution in the county ordinances, as county commissioners want, "would be a significant step backward."

Barentine tells Mountain Town News that he's dubious the Wet Mountain Valley will achieve designation as a dark-sky preserve. "It would be a very uphill effort, if not outright impossible," he said by e-mail.

For Idaho to achieve the designation, it took amended regulations in three counties as well as towns.

Jim Bradburn, president of the Dark Skies, Inc. of the Wet Mountain Valley, said he and other proponents will continue to make their case. The valley's ranchers opposed the proposed restriction on high-intensity lights. He says that as American's shift their diets away from beef, the valley will need economic development strategies. The dark sky is an asset that can be used to draw overnight visitors from Denver, three hours away, and from Colorado Springs, about 90 miles away.

The Wet Mountain Tribune reported a packed courtroom for the meeting. In persuading the planning commissioners, opponents warned of government over-reach. "We don't need the strong arm of government," said one individual, who instead advocated voluntary compliance. Opponents of the limitations on light-pollution also fretted about fines imposed and possible jail time meted out to offenders.

Located along the Sangre de Cristo Range in south-central Colorado, Custer County has often had fractious political fights. In November, two of the three county commissioners were recalled.

Marijuana sales grow 16 percent during 2017 in Steamboat

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Sales of marijuana in Steamboat Springs grew last year by 16 percent, pushing past $12 million.

Marijuana, which became legal in Colorado in 2014, now constitutes 1 percent of the annual sales tax revenue collected by the city. This compares with 3 percent from liquor stores.

Steamboat Today says that sales increased partly because of extended hours of sales. Stores are now permitted to close at 10 p.m., instead of 8 p.m. Stores are also being allowed to move to more central locations, instead of light-industrial areas.

Business owners tell the newspaper that they expect sales to plateau at some point, especially as more states legalize sales of cannabis for recreational purposes. City officials expect to see continued growth in revenues from marijuana taxes.