News » Mountain News

Mountain News: Flooded town struggling



JAMESTOWN, Colo. — Located in the foothills near Boulder, Colo., Jamestown was established in 1863, the result of gold deposits nearby, and has survived ups and downs since then.

Whether it will survive the flood of September 2013, however, is still in doubt.

Mayor Tara Schoedinger says 80 to 90 per cent of the town's 300 residents remain displaced. They've rented houses in Boulder, located about 20 minutes away, or elsewhere. Schoedinger fears few will return if water service and roads cannot be restored by August.

The town is the most northerly in Colorado's arc of precious metals that sweeps down through Idaho Springs, Aspen, and Silverton. It's located at about 2,100 metres in elevation.

Jamestown was probably drenched worse than any other town in the four days of storms that dropped up to 46 centimetres in some locations. The flooding waters destroyed 20 per cent of the houses and 50 per cent of roads, plus the water treatment plant and the fire station. A mudslide also killed Schoedinger's next-door neighbour, Joe Howlett, who was considered the town's patriarch. He was buried by a mudslide.

When the flooding started, Schoedinger worked for Vail Resorts. There, she supervised a part of the IT department. She quit working Sept. 11, the day flooding began, and threw all her time into rebuilding the town. She formally left the company Jan. 1, but says the company itself — which is headquartered in the Boulder suburb of Broomfield — has been exceedingly generous to her. Also, company employees have pitched in with personal time to help Jamestown struggle back to its knees.

Rebuilding has started. The new post office opened on Feb. 8. Meanwhile, a new 100-year flood plain has now been determined, which will allow for calculation of rebuildable lots. But water infrastructure must be restored, and those pipes will be buried below the reconstructed roads.

Meanwhile, town board meetings have been held at the Boulder County courthouse, and one of the lingering issues is where will the money come from to pay for all this. There is state and federal assistance, but also fundraisers, including one scheduled this Saturday night in Denver. A bluegrass band will perform.

Park City feeling good

PARK CITY, Utah — Snowfall and, of late, the stock market haven't been kind to Park City. Nonetheless, there's plenty of reason to see prosperity now and into the future.

One reason is an event called Grub Crawl. Sponsored by Bon Appétit Magazine, it will take place in New York City, San Francisco and three other cities... including Park.

Park City also stands to benefit from an announcement by Delta Airlines. It will expand Salt Lake City hub by eight per cent over the next five years.

Climate risk among the calculus in new pipeline

JASPER, Alberta — Jasper, located in the Canadian park of the same name, has decided against trying to have a say-so in whether expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline gets approved.

The pipeline would stretch from near Edmonton to Burnabay the latter on the outskirts of Vancouver. An existing oil pipeline spans that route, but the proposal now before Canadian regulators is whether the pipeline can be twinned. In some areas, including Jasper National Park, a duplicate pipe already exists.

In Jasper, local resident Art Jackson tells the Fitzhugh that he's concerned about safety. Mayor Richard Ireland acknowledges those concerns, but tells the newspaper that the municipality will not apply as an intervener. The municipality, he says, simply lacks the expertise.

"Yes, we could make a political statement, but we would rather have this thing meaningfully discussed at the board. And we think the best opportunity to do that is to align ourselves with Parks Canada," he said. The federal parks administration, he said, does have that expertise in pipeline management.

The controversy about the pipeline has two levels. One is about the potential for spilling oil, which would include oil extracted from the oil/tar sands of northern Alberta.

But as with the Keystone XL and other export pipelines, the Trans Mountain raises questions about whether the infrastructure for oil can be justified in the face of rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Vancouver's application to be a participant in the proceedings lays out an economic argument. It says it will be impacted by the changing climate because of the impacts of "severe weather events and rising sea levels."

"I'm proud Vancouver has taken a leadership role in saying we have to take climate change seriously," Adriane Carr, a Vancouver city councilor, told the Globe and Mail. "We have a commitment to reduce our greenhouse-gas footprint. You can't support something like the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project, which is absolutely linked to the expansion of production of the tar sands, and hold true to that commitment to combat climate change."

Crested Butte measures snow by metres, not centimetres

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Snow, it's a wonderful problem to have in Crested Butte. In less than two weeks, more than two metres of snow fell on the ski area there. Down in the two towns at the base, Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte, the snowfalls during that same span measured 130cms, and 101cms respectively.

Nobody's complaining, though. "After two rough winters, every inch of snow that falls this winter is so worth it," said Erika Mueller, spokeswoman for the ski area. "It's much more exciting to market snow, and we've been given ample opportunities to measure the snow in feet instead of inches."

Mueller told the Crested Butte News that February bookings increased 60 per cent compared to the same week last year. While the destination business — people flying in on jets — has been declining for years, the snow is stimulating the "drive markets."

The Crested Butte News observes that the drive-market dines on hamburgers, the destination folks on prime rib. They stay longer and spend more. But Crested Butte is happy to sell burgers after two lean winters.

Telluridian films takes aim at dams

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Two filmmakers from Telluride will be at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, showing their new film, called DamNation.

The film, explains the Telluride Daily Planet, explores the shift in attitudes toward big dams in the United States. Once a source of pride for their engineering, the dams have become notorious for their disruption to the healthiness of rivers.

Included in DamNation is rediscovered archival footage and vintage photography such as that taken by an archaeological "salvage" team working against time in 1958 to recover priceless Ancestral Pueblan artifacts before the flooding of Glen Canyon.

Telluridians to listen in on Ted talks

TELLURIDE, Colo. — No matter how much powder has been deposited on the slopes of Telluride on March 16, some people intend to have their tushes parked in the comfortable seats of the local high school auditorium.

There, thanks to a local couple, the TEDX talk being held in Vancouver, B.C., will be broadcast. Speaking will be theoretical physicist Allan Adams, geneticist Wendy Chung, and cartoonist Randall Munroe, among a dozen or so others.

The Telluride Daily Planet says that Katrine and Bill Formby previously brought the first broadcasts of TED to Telluride in 2012 and 2013. "It's one of the most fulfilling things I do all year," Katrine Formby told the newspaper.

Such talks, she added, are best experienced with other people. "I get more out of TED when I watch it with other people," she said. "I want to be able to walk out of a session and talk to people about what we just saw."

The TED talks, all four days of them, will also be broadcast live to Whistler for those able to peel out $3,750 for registration.

What's the reservoir for?

JACKSON, Wyo. — Why create a small pond atop Snow King Mountain, the ski area whose base is six blocks from downtown Jackson?

Mayor Mark Barron maintains the $1.2 million expense is needed to provide firefighters with water to fight forest fires. He concedes the reservoir could be used for snowmaking for the ski area, but insists that's just a secondary consideration.

But Councilman Jim Stanford sees flipped justifications. "It doesn't seem like anybody in the firefighting community is calling for a pond to be built" on top of Snow King, he told the Jackson Hole News&Guide. "Certainly the biggest beneficiary would be Snow King's snowmaking."

Winter Park cleared of liability

DENVER, Colo. — On a day in 2012 in which avalanche professionals had advised skiers to stay out of the backcountry, Christopher Norris, 28, decided to ski an area of Winter Park called Trestle Trees. It wasn't closed, but he was killed in an avalanche.

His widow sued, saying the ski area operator should have closed the area or taken actions to reduce the danger. The first judge to hear the case ruled the ski area operator was protected from liabilities under Colorado's Skier Safety Act. Now, the Colorado Court of Appeals has reached the same conclusion. If appealed, as expected, the Colorado Supreme Court will have final say.

At issue is the wording of the 1979 act. The law specifies responsibilities of skiers and other users and grants immunity to ski operators for "inherent dangers" of the sport. The Denver Post notes that the law specifically mentions changing snow and weather conditions but not avalanches.

The two judges who constituted the majority in the ruling last week concluded avalanches are the result of "changing weather conditions" across "variations of steepness and terrain," phrases mentioned in the law. If Colorado legislators wish to hold ski areas accountable for avalanche-related injuries or deaths, the judges wrote, then they should change the law.

The dissenting judge noted lawmakers in 1979 spelled out many of the dangers operators were exempted from, so the absence of avalanches from that list would suggest they did not mean to exempt them in this case.

An open question is how much this case may affect a lawsuit expected to be heard in June against Vail Resorts. In that case, a 13-year-old local boy was killed by an avalanche on Vail Mountain. Vail had closed the top of the run, but the victim and his companions had entered the run from a side gate that was not closed, then side-stepped up the slope.

Old railroad route to Winter Park still closed

WINTER PARK, Colo. — Will four-wheel enthusiasts ever again be able to traverse the Continental Divide of Colorado between Rollinsville, in the foothills above Denver and Boulder, and the ski town of Winter Park on the west side?

The apex of the route is 3,556-metre Rollins Pass, and just east of it is the Needles Eye tunnel built for a railroad that intended to go from Denver to Salt Lake City. The tunnel was used from 1904 until 1928, when the 10-kilometre-long Moffat Tunnel opened at a much lower elevation.

The Needle's Eye tunnel was closed by a rockfall in 1990, and Boulder County has never seen fit to clear the tunnel of debris. How come?

Reporting on a recent meeting, the Boulder Daily Camera reports the cost of repairing decaying trestles and other work at $10.5 million.

An even larger concern appears to be impacts to adjoining tracts of public land now designated as wilderness by the U.S. Congress. Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones is among those worrying that allowing four-wheelers that much access will tempt them to go places they shouldn't.

Edward Wiegand says cost shouldn't be prohibitive. He says the route can be reopened by hewing to an older wagon road.

"This area is owned by the citizenry, and to keep it closed because one county wants to make some kind of environmentalist statement is just not fair to the entire public, not just motorized recreationalists."