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Mountain News: Bus ridership surges



ASPEN, Colo. – Bus ridership is up substantially this winter in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Dan Blankenship, director of RFTA, cites decreases in day-skier parking in Snowmass Village, higher parking fees in Aspen, and soaring gas prices. Certainly not least has been the repeated winter storms that made driving on Highway 82 taxing this winter.

Buses have been so full during prime commuting hours this winter that some passengers have been forced to stand for extended trips, reports The Aspen Times. Blankenship says the agency, despite substantial pay increases and benefits, has a hard time hiring and holding onto drivers. Ultimately, more affordable housing is needed.

Volume last year was 4.45 million passengers, an increase of nearly 9 per cent over 2006. At current rates, the growth in passenger volume will be 33 per cent over a four-year period — a growth that directors had envisioned for the next 15 years. RFTA runs buses from Aspen nearly 80 miles down-valley to Rifle. As a short-term fix, RFTA is buying two new 57-passenger buses.

The longer term remains problematic. RFTA had been planning an expansion of the system in what is called bus rapid transit, which means more dedicated bus lanes, fewer stops, and better bus stations at those stops. Ideally, such a bus system would happen sooner, rather than later. But if the local agencies provide the money, they may be ineligible for later federal funding.

In the meantime, directors recently agreed to make bus routes between Aspen and Snowmass Village, at a cost of $117,000 for the summer and fall months. Existing service for buses that make stops is $3 per ride.


In Jackson, too

JACKON HOLE, Wyo. – Bus riders on START, the bus system serving Jackson Hole, was up 14 per cent last year compared with 2006. Bus ridership continued to grow even more strongly in January, by 17 per cent. The route that draws the most riders, between the town of Jackson and the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, has 77 buses scheduled daily. Other buses are dispatched to commuter areas, including the Star Valley and Teton Valley, Idaho, both more than a half-hour away from Jackson.


Real-estate sales prices secret

KETCHUM, Idaho – In Idaho, legislators have again refused a law that would make the sales prices of homes and other real estate property a matter of public record. Right now, public officials must keep the sales prices secret.

Driving this continued secrecy, says the Idaho Mountain Express, is a fear that this might lead to fees on real estate transfers. Such fees exist in Colorado, with no harm to the real-estate economy, says the newspaper.

“Resort economies have different needs than those based on agriculture, mining, logging and high tech,” says the Express. “They operate under worldwide economic pressures that most Idaho legislators apparently cannot imagine, let alone respond to creatively.”

Indeed, until 1992, Colorado did allow real-estate transfer taxes, which were commonly collected by towns to fund open-space transactions. Imposition of new fees can no longer be imposed by cities, towns or counties, although private developers can incorporate such fees into their projects. Such is the case of Beaver Creek, for example, and in Steamboat Springs there are two such projects.


Carrot for energy efficient homes

HAILEY, Idaho – Town officials in Hailey, located about 15 miles downstream form Ketchum and Sun Valley, are looking to offer carrots, not sticks, in their goal of reducing energy. One proposal now before the city council would defer building-permit fees for homes built to Energy Star standards. Such homes almost always have more efficient water heaters and furnaces, and are also built more tightly, to avoid heat loss. They are at least 15 percent more energy efficient than those built to uniform building code standards. In Boise, they would also add a cost of $2,250 to $3,750 for a 1,5000 square-foot home to the sticker price, although the presumption is that the money would be returned in the form of lower natural gas and electricity bills within just a few years.


Prescribed burns upset officials

BANFF, Alberta – Three wildfires near the Banff townsite in the past three years, one of them unnervingly close, have caused local fire managers to start plotting deliberate fires, to prevent out-of-control fire.

Parks Canada, which administers Banff National Park, is planning to burn 1,330 hectares (2,226 acres) during the coming decades, most lasting for just a few hours in spring months. Still, the idea of smoking up the Bow River Valley has some tourism officials sounding alarm bells, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook. Smoke in the valley would be “disastrous for the tourism industry,” said Julie Canning, president and chief executive officer of Banff Lake Louise Tourism.


Proposed resort has April deadline

LASSEN, Calif. – Would-be developers of a real-estate, golf, and ski resort northwest of Truckee have until April 8 to come up with the $16 million that would preclude foreclosure. The Sierra Sun reports that financial troubles led the lender, California Mortgage and Realty, to issue a foreclosure sale notice originally slated for Feb. 4 to recoup nearly $16 million in debt. Opponents of the project, who say it would sully a large undeveloped area, have been fighting the project for seven years.


Planes nearly crash at Yampa airport

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Two planes nearly crashed into each other at Yampa Valley Regional Airport, located 25 miles west of Steamboat Springs. Air traffic controllers in Denver had cleared a private 9- to 12-passenger jet to take off without realizing that a commercial 66-passenger regional jet had not yet landed. Despite the miss, it was quite a scare for passengers and airport officials, reports The Steamboat Pilot & Today. Airport manager Dave Ruppel said the incident underscores the need for radar coverage at the airport. Because of the mountainous topography, planes that are taking off or landing fly too low to be detected by radar in Denver. Such radar coverage is expected to be in place by late next spring.


Snow worries

ASPEN, Colo. – It’s not just middle aged people who are fearing the effects of gravity. With so much snow to come down, officials are concerned about the potential for massive spring snowslides.

One area of slides in the past is just outside Aspen, on the drainages of Castle Creek and also Conundrum. In 1994, a massive slide killed one man sleeping in a teepee along Conundrum Creek. Another slide, farther down the valley along Castle Creek prevented rescuers from getting to the site.

The glut of snow in the narrow chutes has to come down either as water or as a potentially devastating snowslide, Pitkin County Undersheriff Joe DiSalvo told The Aspen Times. For now, officials are taking a do-nothing approach. No homes are immediately threatened.

South of Telluride, along Lizard Head Pass, mitigation of the avalanche threat last year caused the highway gates to drop only 50 minutes. This year, it’s been nearly 89 hours, reports The Telluride Watch. Up in the Telluride ski hill, Pat Ahern, the ski patrol director, estimated that patrollers have used twice the amount of explosives for avalanche mitigation this year, as compared to last.


Temperatures rise over snowmobiles

SILVERTON, Colo. – Snowmobilers are mad, and they’re just not going to take it anymore. A proposal being considered by U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management administers for land between Silverton and Ouray calls for a prohibition of snowmobiles from a section of public lands southeast of Red Mountain Pass.

Observers say there has been a geometric increase in use of the pass by snowmobilers in the last several years. In the last century, there were virtually no snowmobilers, and now there are many. Advances in snowmobile technology — including lighter chassis, more powerful engines, and deeper paddles — are allowing them to go where they previously could not go.

The Ouray Watch says that one question from among snowmobilers is that with motorized use exploding, land managers are reducing the areas where motors are allowed. Another question — and one for which the land managers have no real answer — is how the snowmobile ban will be enforced?

Skiers want “historic” use as the template for management. “Historic use? This used to be Indian country. We ran them all out,” said one snowmobiler, with the royal “we” meaning all those who had followed, skiers and snowmobilers. Change, he seemed to be saying, is the norm.


Flood watch in Telluride

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Three times in the last century a creek that descends through the middle of Telluride before emptying into the San Miguel River has overflowed its banks, the most recent case being last summer. In certain parts of the country, they call such deluges “frog-stranglers.”

Last summer’s deluge, in which Coronet Creek carried 500 cubic feet per second of water, was tame compared with other summertime cloudbursts in 1969 and 1914 which resulted in floods of 9,000 cfs, and 14,000 cfs respective. Still, last year’s flood was enough to cause town officials to take action.

They have now agreed to spend $1.5 million during the next two years to enlarge culverts, increasing the capacity of the streambed to 500 cfs. That, obviously, won’t handle the bigger floods, but it will require removing 380 dump trucks of material. As well, the creek will have to be cleaned out again every year, as yet more material from the basins continues to erode.

Because of all the houses and other structures built along the creek’s banks, it’s impossible to carve out a channel large enough to accommodate the sort of flood that the past suggests is likely in the future.


Giant real estate plan annexed

MINTURN, Colo. – The camel officially is in the tent. Last week the Minturn Town Council approved on second reading the annexation of 4,300 acres of former mining lands planned for high-end real estate development.

Not yet authorized are the 1,700 homes, ski area, and golf course proposed by the Ginn Co., a Florida-based developer. The property is located south of Vail, and adjacent to a one-timing mining town, Red Cliff.

The story goes back to the late 1980s, more than a decade after zinc- and lead-mining operations in the area were suspended. A trio of lawyers began buying the properties, many of which had been purchased for back taxes by speculators. Ginn purchased the property several years ago for $35 million.

There has been some grumbling in Minturn all along by residents who fear the impacts. Already, the Main Street becomes crowded morning and night with commuters headed to homes in Leadville, 35 miles away. There is no easy way to reroute traffic in the narrow valley.

The agreement between Minturn and Red Cliff calls for new sidewalks along Main Street, a recreation centre, water-system upgrades, and a large amount of affordable housing.

Because Minturn has very few sales, town officials for years have struggled with how to make ends meet. Had Minturn not embraced the project, the landowner would have been granted the right to build at least 179 houses, plus accessory units, under Colorado law. Some believe that Red Cliff, the other adjoining town, would have cut a deal with Ginn had Minturn not done so.


Cloud-seeding finally ends

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Cloud-seeding operations were suspended in late February because of the snowpack, which is consistently above 150 per cent of average in the Gunnison River Basin, and in places is 160 per cent of average. The basin has been seeded every year since 2002 by a consortium of agriculture, water, and resort organizations, explains the Crested Butte News.


Mining deal at Rico dropped

RICO, Colo. – Bolero, a giant mining company, has scrapped plans to purchase mining properties east of Rico, which his south of Telluride. The land in question has molybdenum deposits as well as gold and copper, but Bolero could not cut the necessary business deals, according to a notice filed by the company.


Mile-long tunnel is latest

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Owners of 5,000 acres on a mountain adjacent to Crested Butte, the town, propose to drill an 8- by 10-foot tunnel into the mountain in order to retrieve core samples to demonstrate the extent and quality of the molybdenum deposits.

State regulators have approved the mile-long tunnel for the project, now called Lucky Jack, but the mining company must still receive authorization from Gunnison County and the town of Crested Butte. Crested Butte last August adopted a moratorium on all development within the town’s watershed, which includes Mt. Emmons, a.k.a. the Red Lady, where the molybdenum deposit is located. The moratorium has now been extended to June.

The ore deposit, the subject of intense displeasure in Crested Butte for the last 30 years, is estimated to contain 22 million tons of high-grade molybdenum ore, and 220 million tons of low-grade molybdenum. The latter would make the deposit more extensive than that found at either the Henderson Mine, located near Berthoud Pass, or Climax Mine, near Leadville and Copper Mountain.

An environmental group in Crested Butte disputed the need for the new tunnel. Bob Slalter, mineral resource director of the High Country Citizens’ Alliance, predicted water quality problems, and declared that the real intent of the tunnel would be for future mining operations, not simply to document the ore body.


Recession slows resort

GRANBY, Colo. – National financial uncertainties are causing a slow down in development at Granby, where development of a giant high-end project called Orvis Shorefox is underway. The project has entitlements to build 600 housing units and 100 commercial accommodation units in a resort along the Colorado River that is focused on flyfishing, among other recreational amenities.

There, development officials acknowledge what is described as a “change in long-term financing.”

“This is taking longer than expected, given the unsettled conditions in the financial markets and the continuing effects of the sub-prime meltdown,” said Susan Penta, a spokeswoman for Orvis Shorefox. The developers include Grand Elk Ranch, which is doing another project nearby, although for a market aimed at a lower price point.

Although Penta described as “not news” and “not unusual,” Granby town officials said they would not allow further changes in the development plan until the money, $30,282, owed to the town gets paid. Some subcontractors are awaiting payment work done in 2006.

“Shorefox Development is working to rectify this situation and intends to get it completed, but it will take additional time and certainly more time than was anticipated,” said Penta. She said recapitalization is expected ”by the time the snow melts.”


Swastika allowed

PARK CITY, Utah – A swastika appeared on the marquee of Park City’s premier theater, the Egyptian, and police were summoned. But they did nothing. The symbol, used by Adolf Hitler’s Nazis, among others, had been posted for a presentation of a musical called “Cabaret,” which was set in pre-World War II Germany.

Police told The Park Record the symbol was protected by U.S. protection of freedom of speech.

Play promoters had worried about public response, going so far as to query Jewish groups beforehand.

But Josh Aaronson, a rabbi, had seen no problems with use of the symbol. The play, he said, doesn’t glorify Nazis. It was, he said, a non-issue.