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Mountain News: Dakota Access Pipeline a flashpoint for climate-justice movement



Cars, campers, and even kayaks have been making their way from mountain towns along the spine of the Rocky Mountains in recent months toward the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

Since April, the Sioux and sympathizers have been protesting construction of a 76-centimetre diameter pipeline that would convey crude oil 1,886 kilometres from the fields of North Dakota to a terminus at Patoka, Ill. The pipeline avoids the reservation but would cross land that the Sioux said is an ancestral burial ground.

Protestors also argue that the Dakota Access Pipeline would threaten their drinking water, even if it is 32 kilometres from the source of the tribe's water supply.

The issue has become a flashpoint for the climate-justice movement, noted Rolling Stone magazine, but the issues are broader yet. Sioux object to potential water pollution. ProPublica said there may be reason to be concerned, given the pipelines that have leaked in the Yellowstone and other rivers in recent years.

For many, there's also a question of whether the Sioux and other tribes have been poorly treated by the U.S. Government.

On the Tuesday before the U.S. Thanksgiving, 50 students, professors, and others set out from southwestern Colorado for the 16-hour drive to Standing Rock.

"I just felt a calling to be up there," Damon Young, a Fort Lewis College student, told the Durango Herald. "I'm looking forward to the spiritual connection more than anything, and to be able to bring back what I learn to my own people, who are also facing water-right battles."

Young is from the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. Student enrolment at Fort Lewis College is about 36-per-cent Native American.

Crested Butte residents and students from Western State College in nearby Gunnison have also made the journey. Several recently joined a group of Native American paddlers floating from the headwaters of the Missouri in Montana to Standing Rock "as an act of solidarity, a plea for heightened awareness, and a prayer to the river."

Chris Christian was among protesters from Jackson Hole who drove 11 hours to Standing Rock to deliver supplies and camp out for two nights. "It's always windy," he told the Jackson Hole News&Guide. "The wind there is terrifying. It will knock you down."

"We gathered up a bunch of snowboard jackets from all of our houses and chopped down a tree and filled up a Subaru full of wood to bring out there, because they need that," Anders Berling, also a Jackson resident, told the newspaper.

While there has been some violence on the part of protesters, activists say police have overreacted with their water cannons, rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, and concussive grenades.

"The police may have shaky legal ground to stand on — they are protecting private property in violation of treaties — but they have lost moral ground with the escalation of violence," Shawna Foster, minister of Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist church in Carbondale, Colo., told the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

Residents of the Roaring Fork Valley have made several trips to deliver supplies to fellow protesters. A recent trip included 544 kilograms of water, food, and medical supplies. Donations of warm clothing are also being solicited.

Commuter planes

TRUCKEE, Calif. — In January, a California company called Blackbird will begin offering air shuttles between Palo Alto and Truckee, which is near Squaw Valley, Northstar, and other resorts. Costs start at US$125 one-way. The drive-time is about five hours. Presumably, the air shuttles will shave about four hours off that commute.

Trump's vow to change name of highest peak

ANCHORAGE — As a developer of high-end real estate, President-elect Donald Trump has mostly profited from licensing use of his name for branding purposes. Might this brand-conscious president try to get his name on something much bigger than a mere hotel skyscraper? Say, a mountain?

That's unlikely to happen. The U.S. Board of Geographic Names has strict rules that mountains and other such fixtures on the landscape cannot be named after living individuals.

But it's another matter what the highest mountain in North America will be called. The natives, in the Athabascan language, called it "the great one," or Denali. But the U.S. Government named it after William McKinley after his assassination in 1901.

In Alaska, the name never quite took, though. As the Associated Press noted, the state had a standing request with the federal government to rename 6,190-metre mountain beginning in 1975.

But representatives of Ohio, from which McKinley hailed, fought the shift, helping block the federal U.S. Board of Geographic Names from taking up the issue.

Finally, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell last year issued an order citing a 1947 law that allows her agency to replace names unilaterally when the board fails to act within a reasonable time. President Barack Obama announced the change last year on his trip to Alaska.

In a tweet, Trump called the name switch a "great insult to Ohio," where McKinley was from, and vowed to change the name of the mountain again.

Trump has done quite a lot of backpedalling since election night. And, in any event, changing a name might not be as easy as flipping a toggle switch on your chainsaw. Keep in mind that Alaska wanted this change in 1975, when Gerald Ford was president.

More ski areas add summer attractions

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. — Colorado's Vail Mountain and California's Heavenly were first to use the new authority given by the U.S. Congress for summer use of ski areas. In June, the two ski areas both introduced mountain (also called alpine) coasters on federal lands among zip courses and other warmer-weather attractions.

Breckenridge will follow next year. Arapahoe Basin has received authority for a more pared-down summer program of a canopy adventure tour and challenge course. The summer activities will add 21 year-round positions related to the summer activities and three summer seasonal positions.

But other ski areas are now arriving with proposals of their own. What the Aspen Skiing Co. has in mind for Snowmass looks a lot like what Vail has done on Vail Mountain. The Aspen Daily News said the gravity-fed downhill coaster is to wind 1,000 metres downhill before being pulled 700 metres feet uphill.

Unlike Vail or Heavenly, however, Aspen proposes to operate its mountain coaster winter and summer but also at night. This is among three alternatives being examined by the Forest Service.

The Forest Service estimates the summer attractions will draw about 2,000 people per day but will not alone draw new people to the Aspen area. Rather, the attractions will give visitors additional options after they have arrived.

Aspen gifts seasonals dinner in lieu of snow

ASPEN, Colo. — With another week of sparse or non-existent storms in Colorado, the Aspen Skiing Co. decided last week to offer dinners on three nights this week to seasonal workers, such as lift operators, who would otherwise be getting hours by now.

But with a significant storm arriving over the weekend, both Aspen and Snowmass opened for business by Sunday. Still, the meal will be offered.

This isn't the first early-season soup kitchen at Aspen or, for that matter, at other ski resorts. Aspen most recently provided dinners to about 40 seasonals at the dry start to the 2007-2008 season. Something similar occurred in the early 1990s, noted the Aspen Daily News.

Rainbow crosswalk in offing at Jasper?

JASPER, Alta. — OUT Jasper, an advocacy group for the LGBTQ community in Jasper, has started sounding out support for creating a rainbow crosswalk. Town officials seem supportive, although details need to be worked out.

"When I first got here, I thought it was amazing to see how much support a small gay community had," said Mychol Ormandy, director of OUT Jasper. "I remember seeing rainbow stickers in a lot of business windows, and since then it's been my dream to see those rainbows grow."

Municipal public works manager Gordon Hutton said the rainbow crosswalk doesn't seem to be an issue. Fundraising for the $5,000 installation has begun. No decision has been made about the ongoing costs of maintenance, however. "The drawback is that they don't stay new looking for long," Hutton told the Jasper Fitzhugh.

Chain stores could be limited

ASPEN, Colo. — Aspen's elected officials this week were scheduled to take up the question of whether to dampen the ability of chain stores, also called formula retail, in the city's downtown core.

Councilman Adam Frisch told the Aspen Daily News that he's willing to have the discussion, and he thinks even building owners and developers who have a long-term vision will, too.

"If we become only a luxury mall, we will start to dilute our brand and dilute what makes us special," he said. "... Even the wealthier people who fly in on private planes complain to me" about the proliferation of international luxury chain stores crowding out businesses with local character, he added.

Consultants retained by the city's planning department concur about the goal of preserving local character. But they also point out that chain stores serve important purposes. They cite Ace Hardware, Radio Shack, Verizon and AT&T, as well as the local grocery store, part of the Kroeger chain.

Will a big parking garage serve tomorrow?

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — Friction between Breckenridge town officials and ski-area operator Vail Resorts is flaring in a dispute about a parking garage.

Votes last year handily approved a 4.5-per-cent lift tax. Vail Resorts, the ski company, did not oppose it. The tax is to provide US$3.5 million a year for transportation.

But was a parking garage in downtown Breckenridge, adjacent to ski slopes, a central part of what was promised voters?

In a September op-ed published in the Denver Post, John Buehler, who is chief operating officer for Vail Resorts at Breckenridge Ski Resort, accused the town of a bait-and-switch after officials have backed off on plans for a $50-million parking garage.

"We believe the time to debate options and waffle back and forth is before you pass a tax. Once taxpayers start paying, they should reasonably expect to receive the benefit they are paying for," he wrote.

Last week, the Post editorially took the town to task, siding with the ski company and accusing the town of "revisionist thinking."

Not true, wrote Mayor Eric Mamula in an op-ed in the Post. The measure approved by voters was broader than just a parking garage and the tax will not yield revenues until next July. "The building of a parking garage structure has not been dismissed," he wrote.

So, what's happening?

Quite a lot actually. And that's the story in a nutshell. Breckenridge town officials decided that rather than immediately starting construction of what President-elect Donald Trump might call a "very big, very beautiful" parking garage, there was lower-hanging fruit to be nabbed.

To wit:

Trolley. A bus outfitted to look like an old-fashioned trolley has been plying Main Street since September.

Paid-parking. The town is launching paid-parking along its Main Street. It's free for the first 15 minutes, but then 50 cents for the first hour. Beyond that, it's $1 to $3 per hour, depending upon the day of the week.

Advertising taken out by the town anticipates resistance to paid-parking, playfully noting a reaction of snowballs instead of confetti.

Zipcars. Service begins Dec. 1. It is believed to be first entry of Zipcars at a U.S. mountain resort, municipal spokeswoman Kim Dykstra told Mountain Town News. It's part of a grand strategy to make Breckenridge a place that is not slavishly devoted to cars while recognizing that they provide answers that other forms of mass transportation do not. Suppose people want to go see Vail? Rather than renting a car for the duration of their vacation, they might rent a Zipcar for an afternoon.

Breckenridge, said Dykstra, has decided to pursue low-cost alternatives, to see how well they alleviate the community's notorious traffic congestion.

"We are not saying the parking garage is off the table completely," she said. "We have never said that. But we think it's worth it to our community to look at all these other solutions before we put a shovel into the ground for a project that is very, very permanent and very, very expensive."

Dykstra also emphasized that the location of a parking garage is very important. Unlike Vail, built from scratch in a virgin valley, Breckenridge evolved over time from a dilapidated mining town into a major destination resort. A site was chosen for a parking garage, but many in the community question whether it is the proper site.