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Mountain News: Vail receives certification as sustainable destination

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VAIL, Colo.—Sustainable Travel International has named Vail as the first mountain resort in the world to achieve certification as a "sustainable destination." It's also the first resort of any kind in the United States so certified.

The effort to get certified was launched several years ago. A key individual for Vail has been Kim Langmaid, who grew up in Vail and launched an environmental school while picking up a Ph.D. She is also a member of the Vail Town Council.

She emphasizes that certification is a part of process, not an end to itself. The same point was made by Bobby Chappel, director of standards and monitoring of Sustainable Travel International. Sustainable efforts are never finished, and constant improvement is needed, he told the Vail Daily.

The destination being certified includes Vail, the town, and Vail, the ski area, as well as the watershed of Gore Creek, where both are located. Particular efforts by the town include a ban on disposable plastic bags and mandated recycling, plus an effort to improve the water quality of the creek through governing the uses of adjoining land.

Benefits halved for family of worker with high THC levels

DENVER, Colo.—During Christmas week last December, lift maintenance worker Adam Lee crawled under the Magic Carpet, a 76-centimetre wide conveyor belt on a beginner slope at the Loveland Ski Area. The ski area is located west of Denver along Interstate 70 where the highway bores through the Continental Divide in the Eisenhower Tunnel.

Why Lee crawled under the ski escalator is not clear, according to a report filed by the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board in January.

Industry standards "prohibit the performance of maintenance beneath a conveyor while the conveyor is in operation," said the board in its January report. "In addition, witness interviews and dispatch records confirm there was no mechanical or electrical issues with the conveyor and that Mr. Lee was not dispatched to the conveyor..."

The conveyor quit operating about an hour after Lee had crawled underneath it. Other lift maintenance workers discovered his body entangled in the machinery.

In a new report, Denver TV station Channel 7 reported that high levels of THC, the psychoactive agent in marijuana, were found in Lee's system at the time of his death. Because of that, the victim's widow and two children have been denied $800 monthly in workers' compensation benefits, half the total that would normally be awarded survivors.

Colorado law allows state workers' comp companies to cut benefits by 50 per cent if tests return positive for marijuana or any other controlled substance. 

Brian Vicente, a Colorado attorney who played a major role in the campaign to legalize marijuana in the state in 2012, told the TV station that the law is unfair.

"We voters spoke loudly and said marijuana should not be illegal for adults. Yet we still have some parts of the Colorado revised statutes that appear to penalize people who are using this substance," he said.

The TV station said experts, whom it did not identify, said there's no way that it could be determined whether Lee was intoxicated or impaired at the time of his death.

The widow, Erika Lee, said she plans to appeal the decision. She cites the fact that marijuana is now legal in Colorado as part of her argument.

Spacing may yield a cap on number of cannabis stores

BANFF, Alta.—Elected officials in Banff, the town, are being advised to space stores selling cannabis no closer than 100 metres apart. This is in addition to provincial requirements that stores be located 100 metres or more from schools and health care facilities.

While Banff is not sure whether to establish a hard cap on the number of cannabis stores, as some places have done, the distant separations being looked at might well achieve the same result, the Rocky Mountain Outlook reported.

Partial financing secured for passenger train

BANFF, Alta.—Proponents of a project to revive passenger rail service between Banff and Calgary have secured $300 million from the private sector. That's half the amount needed to build the tracks parallel to the Canadian-Pacific Railway.

Jan Waterous, who owns the train station in Banff and 30 adjoining acres with her husband, Adam, told the Rocky Mountain Outlook that the private institution, which was unidentified, will pay half the cost if local, provincial, and federal governments match it.

It's 125 kilometres from Banff to Calgary, where construction is underway on a third light-rail line. The cost of that light-rail line in Calgary runs more than $170 million a kilometre. The line from Banff, however, could cost only $4 million a kilometre, Waterous estimated.

The ultimate dream is to enable Banff visitors or residents to be able to take rail from the national park to the Calgary airport, as well as downtown Calgary. This could play into Calgary's potential bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics, but Waterous does not want to see Olympic events within the national park, as she believes it would create unacceptable impacts. She said she was motivated to investigate the rail potential by the worsening traffic in Banff. "We got into this because we want to make Banff more pedestrian friendly," she said.

Adam Waterous is the managing partner of Waterous Energy Fund, a private equity fund primarily focusing on privately owned oil and gas companies in North America.

Enviros warn of dangers posed by oil trains

KALISPELL, Mont.—Environmental groups continue to point to booming traffic in trains carrying oil across the Continental Divide in Montana as an accident waiting to happen, the Flathead Beacon reported.

The rail line over Marias Pass, just south of the Glacier National Park, carries 10 to 18 trains each week of cars containing oil from the Bakken fields of North Dakota and eastern Montana. The tracks adjoin the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, which flows into Flathead Lake, between Missoula and Kalispell.

American Rivers, an environmental group, points out that the river helped inspire adoption of the Wild and Scenic River Act of 1968.

Jack Stanford, emeritus director of the Flathead Lake Biological Station, said an entire 80-car train going into the river would be a "disaster beyond belief."

Burlington Northern-Santa Fe, operator of the railroad, defends its safety record and points out that it has spent $850 million on its tracks in Montana during the past five years to reduce risks and leverage new technology.

Railroad officials also point to their work with avalanche forecasters to predict when snow slides may impact the rails and trains, the better to curtail operations.

Environmentalists, though, want to see a publicly reviewed spill prevention plan.

Hurt grizzly bear put to death

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, Mont.—Officials decided to euthanize a female grizzly bear who slipped from an overhanging precipice and fell six metres onto the Going-to-the-Sun Road across Logan Pass in Glacier National Park.

A necropsy found the bear had significant trauma to its thoracic vertebrae, broken ribs, and a dislocated hip. She was estimated to be five to seven years old and believed to be otherwise in good health.

Military chopper tested

GUNNISON, Colo.—About 70 employees of Lockheed Martin are in Gunnison for seven weeks this summer to test the latest incarnation of the Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion. The 30-metre-long military helicopter can carry 41,000 kilograms at take-off, reported the Crested Butte News.

The airport in Gunnison is commonly used by aircraft manufacturers because of its high elevation, 2,300 metres. Like the human body, helicopters must work harder in the thinner air, and hence the interest of aerospace companies in testing equipment there, explained Rick Lamport, Gunnison airport manager.

It's official now in Jackson: no sex-based discrimination

JACKSON, Wyo.—It's now illegal to provide unequal treatment based on sexual orientation or gender identity in Jackson.

Wyoming is the Equality State, noted Jim Stanford, a town councilor, alluding to the motto for Wyoming, the nation's first state to give women the right to vote. He and the four other town councilors in Jackson voted for the third and final time for the new law. With that, rainbow flags were unleashed.

If the council was unanimous, there was some community dissent, reported the Jackson Hole News&Guide. One resident of nearby Wilson, a hamlet about 16 kilometres away, argued that the new law creates a "special class" to the detriment of other groups, Christians in particular. Dan Brophy said it violates First Amendment rights to freedom of religion.

Anne Marie Wells, who identified herself as a member of the LGBTQ community, said the same argument was used in the 1960s by those opposed to ensuring civil rights of African-Americans. The current argument just echoes the "history of those who used their religion as a shield to justify their racial bigotry," she said.

Alterra putting biggest bucks into upgrades of Winter Park

WINTER PARK, Colo.—Alterra Mountain Co. is putting US$28.2 million into improvements this summer at the Winter Park Resort, a ski area located 109 kilometres northwest of Denver.

The Zephyr, the four-passenger high-speed lift installed in 1990, is being replaced by a 10-person gondola. It will be able to upload up to 6,600 passengers per hour and will, reported the Sky-Hi News, reduce wait time by 15 minutes during peak season. Also being upgraded is the snowmaking system, which had been in place for 42 years.

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