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Mountain News: Friedman attacked as hypocrite

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ASPEN, Colo. – The practices of many evangelists are very different from what they preach, and the same can be said for some environmentalists. Take climate crusader Al Gore, his 10,000-square-foot home, and galloping electrical consumption.

Gore was in Aspen this summer to talk about climate change, and so was Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist famous for his fearless war reporting, three Pulitzer Prizes, and his most recent book, “The Earth Is Flat.”

Friedman has also written frequently about climate change and energy in recent years, and has been sharply critical of the Bush administration.

But The Aspen Times columnist Paul Andersen notes that Friedman’s walk is very different from the green talk. For his engagement in Aspen, for example, he arrived by private jet. Also, Friedman lives in an 11,400-square-foot home located along a golf course near Washington D.C.

“For Thomas Friedman to pontificate on going green is like an overweight physician telling his equally obese patients to go on a diet,” says Andersen.

“There are plenty of affluent people who share Friedman’s and Gore’s desire for guilt-free conspicuous consumption,” he says. “They buy carbon offsets the way sinners bought indulgences during the Middle Ages.”

In a 2006 article, Washingtonian Magazine said that Friedman’s annual income easily surpasses $1 million a year. In addition, he married into one of America’s richest families, the Bucksbaums, who were pioneers in the development of shopping malls. The family has a home in Aspen.

 

Is Hayduke at work?

WINTER PARK, Colo. – A couple of decades ago, the view between Winter Park and Fraser was one of the most appealing in Colorado. In summer, the meadow was emerald green, with conifers in the middle ground and the white-fingered cone of Byers Peak in the background.

But this land along Highway 40 is also of prime commercial value, and the two towns have taken turns allowing development. Of late, four new billboards have been erected along the highway advertising a real-estate project called “Grand Park.” The Winter Park Manifest reports a good many phone calls, letters and raspy comments; meanwhile, police are trying to track down the person or persons who applied a chainsaw to one of the billboards.

Such vandalism came to be called “monkeywrenching” after a 1975 novel by Edward Abbey called The Monkey Wrench Gang. Among the characters was a Vietnam War vet called George Washington Hayduke, which caused some wags to produce bumper stickers that say, “Hayduke Lives.” That is also became the title for another book by Abbey.

In a way, Hayduke lives in another sense. The character was at least partly based on Doug Peacock, a self-educated expert in grizzly bears who has spoken recently in several of the ski towns.

 

Real estate prices doubled

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – The inventory of real estate for sale in Jackson Hole continues to decline, but the median sales prices continue to soar.

The median home-sale price four years ago was $542,000. Now, it’s at $1.2 million, appraiser David Viehman reports. In other words, prices have doubled in the last four years, with a 28 per cent increase in just the last year.

In his mid-year report, Viehman noted that the statistically greatest surge was of homes valued at more than $5 million, where total sales increased 81 per cent.

A majority of buyers are from Jackson Hole, but of the out-of-state buyers, they come from the usual places: New York, California, Texas, and Florida.

Condo prices have also escalated. Last year at this time the least expensive condo on the market was $205,000. This year, as of early July, the least expensive condo available for purchase was $512,000, said Viehman, of Jackson Hole Real Estate and Appraisal.

To put more housing on the market, lowering the cost, he argues the need for high-density infill housing, and also for relaxed density requirements when affordable housing requirements are steep.

 

Telluride readies for bird flu

TELLURIDE, Colo. – If it happens, a hangar at the airport on the mesa near Telluride will become a morgue, and the middle/high school will become an emergency hospital.

The “it” is arrival of an HS5N1 pandemic, better known as the bird flu. Some 185 people have died of the virus, mostly in Asia, but there is enough fear that 54,000 turkeys were killed on a farm in Virginia.

The Telluride Watch reports that local emergency officials believe Telluride will be in relatively good shape should a pandemic happen similar to the flu that killed somewhere between 18 to 100 million people in 1918-1920. After all, Telluride lies at the end of a box canyon, and access can be relatively easily controlled. On the other hand, it is vulnerable to gas and electricity outages, as the backup routes into the town are minimal.

Of course, being isolated did the people nearby no good when the flu epidemic hit in 1918. About 10 per cent of the population died, ironically with those in the prime of their lives being hit hardest.

 

Summit County targets India

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. – Whistler and Banff have been waiting expectantly for several years for the day when the average Chinese can begin visiting. Vail has been flirting with the ruble-rolling Russians. Could Colorado’s Summit County someday be sending delegations to Bombay and New Delhi in an effort to attract the 350 million Indians who today are younger than 25?

That idea was drawn out after a visit by Purnima Voria, who founded the National U.S. Indian Chamber of Commerce. The group seeks to foster economic reform. “India is a sleeping tiger that has just awakened economically,” she said.   She also suggested that Summit County might someday draw nurses from India, as the county is having a hard time with that staffing.

 

More white-collar crime

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. – Oh, the world can be small at times. Consider this most recent round of corporate thievery, capped last Friday by the sentencing of Joe Nacchio, the former chief executive of Denver-based Qwest, the telecommunications company.

Nacchio has been ordered to serve six years in prison, fined $19 million, and ordered to pay back $52 million in ill-gotten gains that he received in 2002 when he knew his company was facing financial risk. In essence, he was convicted of lying.

These crimes were those of “overarching greed,” said the judge, Edward Nottingham.

Nottingham grew up, at least partly, at Beaver Creek, on a ranch owned by his father, Willis. This is the same place near Vail that later became a major ski resort.

Beaver Creek, always a favorite of the corporate types, has become more prominent in recent years in a left-handed way. Several of its big houses were owned by people who have become full-time residents of the “big house.” They include Adelphia founder John Rigas and his son, Tom Rigas, who received prison sentences of 15 and 20 years respectively. Tyco’s former chief executive, Dennis Kozlowski, was sentenced to 8.5 to 25 years in jail.

 

Clear cuts proposed

VAIL, Colo. – In the early 1990s, people around Vail generally detested logging sales. “No more clear cuts,” mountain bikers would yell as they rode by clear cuts that were, if small, nonetheless clear cuts. Ironically, they were riding on a road built for logging operations several decades ago.

Now, the U.S. Forest Service is planning more timber sales, some 2,500 acres altogether around Vail and Minturn. And the Vail Daily is finding some evidence that these logging operations won’t be well received, even if the area is beset by bark beetles that are killing most of the lower-elevation lodgepole pine trees.

Thinning of forest stands just won’t work, says Forest Service officials, and the dead wood has a brief time when it is of value to sawmills and other uses.

 

GOP sifts through e-mails

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Colorado’s open records laws allow individuals and organizations to request copies of public records. With that in mind, an organization called the Republican Study Committee of Colorado has asked for the e-mail messages sent by all three Gunnison county commissioners, plus Garfield County’s Trési Houpt and San Miguel County’s Art Goodtimes. All are Democrats save for Goodtimes, a Green Party member.

The Telluride Watch says that the e-mail records of the last five years show that Goodtimes is out to reform Club 20, the Western Slope advocacy group. That simple fact is neither new nor news among people who pay attention to such things. Just the same, copying all the records has been a royal pain, said the San Miguel county administrator, something that any number of federal land officials would likely second.

 

Athletes turn to real estate

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – What do you do once you’ve become the first person in history to snowboard off the summit of the highest mountain on each of the seven continents?

In the case of Stephen Koch, he became a professional speaker, returned to guiding — and this year got his real estate license. Koch’s career choice, says the Jackson Hole News & Guide is part of a theme of professional athletes who have posted their dirt-selling shingles.

“I do this so I can live here,” says Rick Armstrong, once known as “Sick Rick” for his propensity for enormous cliff jumps while on skis. He appeared in both Warren Miller and Teton Gravity Research ski films.

Armstrong tells the Jackson Hole News & Guide’s Michael Pearlman that the transition from athlete to agent has been more natural than many people would expect. As a professional athlete, he had to sell himself, and that’s a skill that transfers well to wooing potential clients.

 

Alpine Banks going green

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Glenwood Springs-based Alpine Banks has banks in many of Colorado’s ski towns, including Snowmass Village. Several years ago, banking chain vice president Dave Scruby visited the Snowmass bank to meet with employees. Asking if there were any questions, one of the employees asked, “Why aren’t we more environmentally minded?”

And so, according to a story in ColoradoBiz Magazine published in March, began some soul-searching, some fumbling, but ultimately some significant changes in how Alpine Banks is doing business. That process has now led to the expected certification of its bank in Telluride under the LEED program.

LEED stands for Leadership in Environment and Energy Design.

The bank building earned points for its location in downtown Telluride, where it is easily accessible to both pedestrians and public transportation. It also has a lighting system that is projected to save 35 per cent of electrical power without compromising lighting quality. All appliances are Energy Star rated, and boilers are 90 per cent-plus efficient.

As well, paints and carpets with low volatile organic compounds have been used, minimizing the formaldehyde and other chemicals that can create “sick” buildings.

Alpine Bank also has LEED-certified buildings planned at Ridgway, which has become something of a Telluride suburb, and in Rifle, one of Aspen’s suburbs.

 

Aspen buys housing stock

BASALT, Colo.—The Aspen Skiing Co. has purchased a 62-unit apartment complex in the El Jebel area, 20 miles downvalley from Aspen. The company plans to use the apartments as affordable housing for year-round employees. Rents for the two-bedroom apartments currently go for about $1,300. The company has also purchased vacant lots in nearby Basalt and a low-end tourist complex in Carbondale.

 

Green council ups ante

WASHINGTON D.C. – Before, it was possible for a building to be LEED-certified, but with no direct upgrades to reduce energy use. That is no longer the case.

The U.S. Green Building Council now requires projects to achieve at least two energy points. The new requirement will improve the energy performance of all LEED-certified buildings by 14 per cent for new construction and 7 per cent for existing buildings.

Driving the change is growing concern about greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings are responsible for 40 per cent of all U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas. Emissions of carbon dioxide have increased 18 per cent since 1990, due to increased energy use.

The new LEED standards also require a 50 per cent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions for commercial projects. This figure includes how people commute to the building and how the building materials were transported.

 

Dogs allowed to run free

FRASER, Colo. – Dogs are still running free in Fraser — in theory, provided they are under the voice command of their owners.

That theory has been challenged in the last couple of years. Several people say they are afraid to walk the streets of the town, for fear of an attack. In response, town trustees reviewed a law that would have mandated leashes.

But in a 5-to-2 vote before a standing-room only crowd, the board rejected the proposed law. The dominant thinking was that a leash law would punish those people who have their dogs under voice control. To ensure enforcement, the town is considering hiring what used to be called a dogcatcher.

This majority vote, says the Winter Park Manifest, did not set well with one of the trustees, Vesta Shapiro. “How many years will it be before I can walk around this town safely,” she said, and then swiveled her chair around, her back to fellow trustees.

 

Jackson Hole an oven

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – With only a few days remaining, July was on pace to be the hottest month in Jackson Hole in the last 25 years.

It’s not that the individual days set records. The high this year was 97, says the Jackson Hole News & Guide, and it’s been at least 98 before and possibly 100.

But 21 of the first 24 days of July surpassed 90 degrees in Jackson, the valley’s only city. That easily surpasses the previous record of 90-plus days. That record, set only four years ago, was for 14 days.

This story of oven-hot temperatures fits in with the pattern, of course. In the last 12 years, 11 of the Earth’s hottest mean temperatures have been record.

 

The meaning of ‘lodge’

AVON, Colo. – The word “lodge” gets used with some frequency in ski communities, as in “ski lodge.” In such use, it has assumed a generic meaning as a building near ski slopes for use by the general public.

Thus, for lack of a better word, any mountain-side beanery that slings cheeseburgers and fries becomes a “lodge,” a word that in its original connotation implied a place for sleeping.

In Avon, the town council recently adopted a law trying to curb short-term rentals in a residential community called Wildridge. As defined by the town, a lodge is a building containing a common kitchen and dining facilities occupied by paying guests on a temporary (31 days or less) basis.

Perhaps somebody needs to invent a generic name for mountain-side restaurants and warming huts.

 

Grand Lake seeks clarity

GRAND LAKE, Colo. – Grand Lake, located at the western portal to Rocky Mountain National Park, is the namesake of a town, but also the origin of the Colorado River. Until Congress dictated otherwise in 1924, the river was known as the Grand until its confluence with the Green River in Utah.

The lake is the largest natural body of water in Colorado, and in 1937 had unusual clarity. It was possible, a scientist found, to see down into the lake for 30 feet.

This is by no means a record. Lake Tahoe once had a clarity of more than 100 feet. But the clarity of both Tahoe and Grand Lake has diminished in recent decades.

In Tahoe, the change in clarity is blamed on a wide variety of dispersed development. Grand Lake’s reduced clarity is blamed on a water diversion project called the Colorado-Big Thompson, which diverts water to cities and farms in the northern Front Range from Boulder to Fort Collins.

That diversion includes two dams immediately downstream from Grand Lake. One of those, called Shadow Mountain, essentially enlarges Grand Lake, making it into a reservoir before the water is pumped through the Continental Divide to Estes Park.

But Shadow Mountain is shallow, which results in warmer temperatures. Warmer temperatures yield more weeds and algae growth. All of this flows into the inter-connected Grand Lake, reducing the 30-foot clarity to only 5 to 10 feet.

Activists, reports the Sky-Hi News, say that Grand Lake must cease to be used as a holding pond. They say a $60 million pipeline from downstream at Granby Reservoir could bypass Grand Lake altogether.

The key at Tahoe, explained Dr. John Reuter, associate director of the Tahoe Environmental Research Center, was the notion that economy and environment cannot be separated.

Activists are also getting the Colorado Department of Health and Environment involved to verify and validate their claims that the water quality is deteriorating in a way that could be harmful.

 

Air conditioning now standard

VAIL, Colo. – Do you remember when air conditioning in a mountain town was as unseemly as high heels?

They’re both showing up more frequently, especially the air conditioning. In Vail, elevation 8,150 feet, it has now become standard for hotel rooms. That means that whenever an older property has an upgrade, the gussied-up rooms also have air conditioning.

One argument for air conditioning is that nearby Interstate 70 is increasingly noisy, making it less soothing to open windows to let in cool mountain breezes. Another argument is that it’s just flat-out hotter during summer than it used to be. And finally, guests are more finicky, less forgiving.

Among those hotels where A-C is standard is the 292-room Vail Cascade Resort and Spa. A $30 million upgrade is also to yield 42-inch flat-screen TVs and cordless phones, as well as bed-side controls for raising and lowering the shades.

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