News » Mountain News

Mountain News: Grand Lake grocery plans to curb use of plastic bags



GRAND LAKE, Colo.—A grocer in Grand Lake, at the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, plans to phase out the use of most plastic bags this summer.

"I have been talking about doing it for years. It was time to put up or shut up," said Brenda Schoenherr, co-owner of the Mountain Food Market.

She told the Sky-Hi News the response has been positive. "I would say 90 per cent of people who see my little note about it give me fist bumps, high-fives, or atta-girls," she said.

Grand County has six towns, and none have taken action against distribution of free plastic shopping bags. Just the county's two largest stores, a Safeway in Fraser and a City Market in Granby, together distribute 2 million bags each year, according to a 2016 study by the county. In Colorado, an estimated 2 billion disposable bags are distributed to shoppers.

Lately, an activist group called Infinite West has been showing the film Bag It! and started talking with local officials. Fraser, the old railroad town, might adopt only a 10-cent fee, stopping short of a ban.

Jeff Durbin, the Fraser town manager, said that a modest fee would encourage people to take their own bags. But for those who elect to pay the fee, that money could be used to help buy down the cost of recycling program in Fraser.

Still a consideration is that the fee will encourage customers to instead buy groceries in Winter Park, three kilometres away, or in Granby, 22 kms away. The town naturally wants shoppers to buy their groceries at the store in Fraser, with the sales tax going to Fraser town coffers.

Avon is the most recent Colorado town to limit distribution of plastic bags. Its ban went into effect May 1. Telluride was the first Colorado town, and it has been followed by Aspen, Boulder, Breckenridge, Carbondale, and Vail. Basalt's elected officials adopted a ban. However, the ban was overturned by voters. The margin was 17 votes.

Supreme Court upholds fee for paper bags

ASPEN, Colo.—In 2011, the Aspen City Council adopted a law that prohibits grocery stores from providing disposable plastic bags to customers. Grocery stores may still provide paper bags to customers, but at a cost of 20 cents.

Aspen adopted the fee after considering a San Francisco study that shows the cost of subsidizing the recycling, collection and disposal of plastic and paper bags there was 17 cents a bag. Aspen nudged the figure to 20 cents based on its distance to recycling markets, the smaller size of its waste stream, and community input.

But is this fee in violation of Colorado's constitutional amendment, called the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR, that prohibits tax increases without direct consent of voters?

No, the Colorado Supreme Court said on Monday in a 4-3 ruling that upheld a lower-court ruling. But there were dissenting opinions. "In all meaningful respects, Aspen's 'waste reduction fee' is in the nature of, and functions entirely as, a 'sin tax,'" said one of the dissenting opinions.

Said another dissenting justice: "Tempting though it may be to provide a reprieve to local governments seemingly hamstrung at times by the strictures of TABOR, that policy decision is not ours to make. Because the bag charge is a tax, the voter approval requirement of TABOR applies."

Vail-area employers want access to foreign labourers

VAIL, Colo.—The seasonal immigrant labourers working under the federal government's H-2B visa program haven't arrived yet to Vail and the Eagle Valley. In March, Congress approved an increase in the number of visas issued, but the Trump administration has delayed issuing new visas. The number of visas had been capped at 33,000 every six months.

Local landscaping and paving contractors who depend upon seasonal workers tell the Vail Daily they wish that the federal government would hurry up.

Mike Stephens, who has a nursery and landscaping company, said he's missing about 20 people. He said he would hire American citizens, but "they're just not out there."

Michael Hasse, who owns an asphalt and coatings company, tells the Vail Daily the same story. He won't hire illegal immigrants, but he also finds it hard to find American workers, and it's become worse in this booming economy, with low unemployment rates.

Santa Fe tops Sun Valley as hottest second-home market

SANTA FE, N.M.—Christie's International Real Estate has proclaimed Santa Fe as the world's "hottest" second-home market in 2017.

Published last week, the company's "Luxury Thermometer" found that Santa Fe topped Muskoka, Ont., the weekend getaway site for well-heeled people from Toronto, as well as Sarasota, Fla; Sun Valley, Idaho; and the Bahamas.

The Christie's report did not identify the criteria used for appointing Santa Fe with the distinction of "hottest" among hundreds of potential candidates. It also did not define what constitutes a luxury home, nor did the report identify the criteria it used in plucking Santa Fe. However, David Barker, owner of the Christie's affiliate in Santa Fe, told the Albuquerque Journal that homes selling for US$1 million or more would constitute luxury. By that measure, there were 158 luxury sales in 2017.

Barker estimated that half of luxury homes sold in Santa Fe are used as second homes.

The report also said that Monaco, with an average price of US$6 million for second homes, tops the world residential market. Down the list somewhat were Sun Valley at US$3.3 million, Telluride at US$2.4 million, Park City at US$2.2 million, and USBig Sky at US$1.8 million. Average prices at Santa Fe were US$1.6 million.

As is common in such reports, the Christie's document said that for the world's wealthiest individuals, a luxury residential purchase remains a lower-risk and higher-reward investment, especially as compared with the volatility of the stock market.

Who has the money? Worldwide, there are 1,083 billionaires who are of the baby boomer generation, aged 54 through 72. But millenials are starting to make a dent: there are now 43 millennial billionaires, those aged 22 through 37.

Talk of reintroducing wolves

DURANGO, Colo.—Talk of restoring wolves to Colorado returned to Durango over the weekend with several presentations by the new Rocky Mountain Wolf Project.

"We're the only state in the Rocky Mountains that doesn't have wolves, for various reasons," said Mike Wilson, a member of the group. He said the project began forming in 2016. "For the last eight to 10 years, various groups have been trying to restore gray wolves to Colorado," he told the Durango Telegraph. "The idea was to get all the interested groups working together."

Wolves were extirpated from Colorado in the 1940s, probably somewhere along the New Mexico border. However, wolves descended from the three packs transplanted into the Yellowstone area in the mid-1990s have been loping back into Colorado since at least 2004. Mexican gray wolves, a sub-species of the gray wolves from Yellowstone, have been released along the New Mexico-Arizona border. There has been some speculation that Mexican wolves will, if they haven't already, start crossing into Colorado.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission in 2016 voted against a resolution that would have supported wolf reintroduction. However, a few months later, the state agency did issue a press release acknowledging it was time to prepare for the eventual recolonizing of Colorado by wolves.

Koch brothers ultimate owners of Aspen Food & Wine Festival

ASPEN, Colo.—In liberal-leaning circles, the name Koch brothers inspired loathing and maybe fear. The billionaire brothers from Wichita, Kan., distribute their money in ways designed to advance their conservative thinking.

In liberal-leaning Aspen, the name Koch is already attached to a building on the campus of the Aspen Institute. David Koch is a trustee at the institute and a familiar figure at the Aspen Ideas Festival held in late June each year.

Now, the name Koch will be in the background of the town's annual Food & Wine Classic. Food & Wine Magazine, owners of the eponymously named festival, has been sold to the Kochs as part of a US$2.8 billion deal. Time Inc. had been the owner, but Des Moines-based Meredith Corp. now owns the magazine, and the Kochs bought the chain.

A publicist for the magazine told the Aspen Daily News that the change in ownership would not affect the festival in any way.

The three-day weekend event each June attracts 5,000 at a cost of US$1,700 each. It started as a home-grown event before being sold to American Express, which in turn sold its publishing arm to Time Inc. in 2013.