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Mountain News: Banff gets valuable land for rental housing



BANFF, Alberta — Parks Canada has given municipal officials in Banff, the townsite within the park of the same name, an early Christmas gift: 12 lots worth an appraised value of $34 million.

The cost to the municipality is a mere $550,000, although the federal agency wants its employees to have a first shot at the affordable housing built on the land. As well, the federal agency requires green-building practices and that the cost of housing be kept at below-market prices into perpetuity.

Banff's rental vacancy rates have hovered around zero for several years, compared to the three to five per cent rates that are considered healthy, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook. Prices match the scarcity. A bedroom in a Banff house goes for $1,500 per month.

Town officials in Banff hope to develop 100 rental units in the next three years, and the private sector is expected to build 300 units.

The alternative reality of China's Jackson Hole

JACKSON HOLE, China — Wyoming's Jackson Hole has several knock-offs. For example, there's a watering hole called Jackson's Hole in Denver, located near Coors Field, the baseball stadium.

And then there's the real estate development on the outskirts of Beijing called Jackson Hole. The New York Times described it as "massive," with 1,200 housing units, of which 90 per cent have been sold.

The Times described it as an "exacting pastiche of an American frontier town, albeit one with a wine-tasting pavilion, a spa and security guards dressed as park rangers, who salute every passing car."

Residents gushed about what they say is American-inspired openness and warmth. For example, strangers greet one another as they stroll along the landscape's cul-de-sacs, often using affectionate nicknames, even if they don't know each other.

Meng Pu said Jackson Hole may not be exactly like America, "but it's definitely not like a lot of other places in China. In a city, you can live in a place for years and never know the person who lives across the hall from you."

This alternative reality of Wyoming's Jackson Hole draws China's ├╝ber-wealthy for other reasons, too. "America represents a wilderness and freedom, and also a big house," Quin You told The Times. He's 42, works in private equity, and owns a six-bedroom home in the development.

Writing in the Jackson Hole News&Guide, columnist Todd Wilkinson reported that the Chinese project was the idea of Allison Smith, who lives in Portland. Ore. In addition to Jackson Hole, she gave the real estate developers in China images of Martha's Vineyard, Yosemite National Park, and Vail. They quickly chose the theme of cowboys and Indians.

The question, wrote Wilkinson, is not what the Chinese version of Jackson Hole represents to its Chinese residents, but rather what the real Jackson Hole represents to those who live there, "how we feel when we gaze into the twisted mirror."

Derailments raise questions at Jasper

JASPER, Alberta — A major rail train corridor goes through Jasper National Park, with a train yard in the town of Jasper. Derailments have occurred twice in recent weeks and also earlier this year.

The most recent was the most significant, causing 12 freight cars carrying grain to spill into the adjoining Athabasca River.

While that was messy enough, it didn't cause the sort of problem that tankers carrying oil would have.

That caused the Jasper Fitzhugh to inquire into the threat posed by derailments. Michael Bourque, chief executive of the Railway Association of Canada, stressed that freight train accidents are rare. And he said that changes have improved safety since a 2013 accident killed 47 people and destroyed most of downtown Lac-Megantic, Que.

Following that disaster, the Canadian government began requiring the railroads to disclose aggregate information about the nature and volume of dangerous goods traveling through municipalities, including Jasper.

Greg Van Tighem, the fire chief in Banff, said that the information is highly confidential. First responders also have use of a smartphone app called AskRail, which provides them with immediate information about the contents of the railway vehicles.

The larger question is whether trains should be transporting certain substances, such as oil. The Fraser Institute, a public policy think-tank, found that moving oil and gas by pipeline is 4.5 times safer than moving the same volume the same distance by rail.

Turbines to provide campground's juice

BANFF, Alberta — Six to 10 small turbines will be installed in rivers and creeks in Banff, Jasper, and other national parks in the Canadian Rockies to generate small batches of electricity at campgrounds.

Officials with Parks Canada, the federal agency, said the electricity can be used for lights in washrooms or to power pay machines. Each of the turbines will be able to generate between four and 12 kilowatt-hours (kWh) daily, or about enough to meet electric needs of a small home.

"As an example, you can expect a brand-new 2015 refrigerator to consume one kWh a day, and this can produce between two and 12 kWh per day," explained Pierra Blanchet, president of Idénergie, the partner with Parks Canada.

Bow Valley Naturalists said they are not necessarily opposed to the river turbines, if this replaces — instead of merely supplements — fossil fuel-based generators.

"These units (generators) often run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and the greenhouse gas emissions are collectively significant, relative to the power demand," said the group's Reg Bunyan.

The turbines, if small, will have an impact on fish. But because fish largely avoid the turbines, only two per cent or so are killed.

Whitefish gets two new hotels & more possible

WHITEFISH, Mont. — It's boom time again in Whitefish. Through November, permits for more than $22.5 million of new commercial construction had been awarded, the highest count since 2005. Two new hotels accounted for the largest share of the construction, and chamber director Kevin Gartland reports conversations with two more serious developers of hotels.

Whitefish planning director Dave Taylor told the Whitefish Pilot that he doesn't see any signs of development slowing down. "This year has been fairly dynamic, and I think we'll see that trend continue and perhaps be surpassed next year," he said.

But Taylor also cautions against expecting the boom to last indefinitely. "Everything is cyclical," he pointed out. 'But right now, all property in Whitefish is a hot commodity."

Idle bylaw enforced

PARK CITY, Utah — Early this winter, Park City began stepping up enforcement of the city's prohibition against letting cars and trucks idle more than a minute. The law exempts circumstances when a defroster is in use or when temperatures need to be adjusted to protect the health and safety of people and animals inside.

This law has been in effect since 2010, but there is some pushback. A company that operates 150 to 200 taxis told The Park Record that this isn't good for high-quality service. "Diania Turner, the owner of Fastaxi, said turning off an idling car makes it cold for drivers and that fare-paying passengers do not like getting into cold taxis.

Incorporating LED lights into dark sky ordinances

CARBONDALE, Colo. — Carbondale, located 48 kilometres down-valley from Aspen, has an excellent law regulating use of outdoor lights, to prevent light pollution that impairs visibility of the nighttime sky. You can, for the most part, still see the Milky Way Galaxy.

But it needs to be tuned up to reflect changes in lighting technology, said Aaron Humphrey, who has a lighting design company and has been in the consulting business for 19 years.

The lighting ordinance he created for Carbondale 12 or 13 years ago, he said, needs to be adapted to reflect the new technology of LED lighting. LED lighting delivers more lumens per watt. As such, using watts as a basis for regulation needs to be revised.

But some things don't change. The basic principle remains that lights need to be directed downward and they need to be shielded. He pointed out that you wouldn't allow your hose to sprinkle your neighbour's house, but people think nothing of lighting their neighbour's houses, what is called light trespass.

Carbondale seems to have some of that, as reported in a recent issue of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. But at least kids there can see the Milky Way, Humphrey said that 80 per cent of American children lives in places where they can't see the Milky Way.

Continued rise in use of helmets at ski areas

BOULDER, Colo. — Again last winter, more heads at U.S. ski areas had helmets. A survey conducted by RRC Associates, a Boulder, Colo.-based research firm, found that 78 per cent of people were wearing helmets, up from 73 per cent the prior year and 38 per cent a decade ago.

Writing in the NSAA Journal, the firm's researchers reported that helmet use was highest among children and those adults 65 and over.