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Mountain News: Western Slope water to continue eastward path



MINTURN, Colo. - For a while, it looked like tradition might be bucked. That tradition in Colorado for the last century has been sloshing headwater streams on the Western Slope across the Continental Divide to cities along the Front Range and farms out to the Nebraska and Kansas borders.

From Grand Lake to Aspen, a distance of several hundred miles, there are dozens of such gravity-reversing canals, ditches, pipes and tunnels, among them the Columbine Ditch. The Ditch detains water in the upper Eagle River drainage, in the Vail area, and diverts it across the Continental Divide at Tennessee Pass. From there, it tumbles down the Arkansas River to near Buena Vista where, amid a popular kayaking segment, the water can be pumped across a mountain range. From there, the water can flow somewhat less artificially to metropolitan Denver, if still constrained by several dams along the way.

Then along came the Ginn Co. with its massive ambitions on old mining properties above Minturn and adjacent to the Vail ski area. The developer, although currently mired in real estate purgatory, including multiple projects in the American Southeast that took on water, has conceptual approval to build up to 1,700 homes, a golf course, and a small ski area on former mining properties.

But to make this happen, the project needs more secure water rights, and it had bid $30 million for the rights to the Columbine Ditch. That would have reversed the west-to-east pattern of the last decade.

But Aurora, a city adjacent to Denver, had the first right of refusal, and on Monday it exercised that right, agreeing to pay $30.48 million in conjunction with the Climax Mine, which has operations near the ditch.

Construction off 80%

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. -- Construction was down 80 per cent in the Steamboat Springs area for the first half of 2008 as measured by dollar volume of permitted projects. But Carl Dunham, an official in the Routt County Regional Building Department, told the Steamboat Pilot & Today that last year, 2008, was the busiest year ever. "So you're taking the worst year in a long time (2009) and comparing it to a record."

Aspen's bookings still dropping

ASPEN, Colo. - If bookings prevail, Aspen's tourism economy will continue to struggle through the summer. June was saved by last-minute bookings, but lodges in Aspen and Snowmass Village were still at only 48 per cent, compared to 58 per cent last year. Advance bookings were down 14 to 20 per cent for July and August, reports The Aspen Times . Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, a reservations service, says that Aspen still has higher rates and a higher occupancy rates than most other mountain resorts.

Steamboat to add hybrid buses

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - Steamboat Springs plans to add two hybrid diesel-electric buses to augment its one existing hybrid by early next year. That existing hybrid is on track to save the city $5,400 to $5,700 in fuel costs annually.

Still, the cost savings are overshadowed by the higher cost of the hybrid buses. The two buses cost $600,000 each, most of it paid for by grants from the U.S. government, reports the Steamboat Pilot & Today . The cost of a conventional bus was not given.

Some bloggers on the newspaper's website believe the hybrids are less than a swell deal. One blogger wondered why, given the presence of all the natural gas fields nearby, Steamboat doesn't get buses that burn natural gas.

Elizabeth Edwards speaks

AVON, Colo. - Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of the former presidential candidate John Edwards, was scheduled to speak this week to the Vail Breast Cancer Awareness Group. A crowd of nearly 500 people were expected at the event, reports the Vail Daily .

Edwards, who has terminal cancer, recently wrote a book, "Resilience," which was about her cancer and looming mortality, but also speaks to the revelation that her husband had had an adulterous affair outside of their marriage in the midst of his campaign.

She has been criticized for being so public about her family's troubles. But she told the Vail Daily that the couple's youngest children, aged 9 and 11, aren't blind and deaf. "My hope is that I will have successfully written a letter they can have long after I've died about what this family means to me," she said.

Hikers, bikers disagree

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. - The lug-soled crowd and the knobby-tired group are at odds about how tightly Forest Service land near Breckenridge should be restricted. Currie Craven, representing a local coalition of wilderness advocates, tells the Summit Daily News that Congressionally designated wilderness would be better, because the protections against other uses cannot be easily reversed. The Fat Tire Society, however, wants a somewhat looser restriction, one that allows them to take their mountain bikes into the areas and also gives the Forest Service greater latitude to deal with dying trees, using mechanized and motorized devices.

Microhydro a reality

MARBLE, Colo. - After 25 years of gestation, a small run-of-the-creek hydroelectric plant could be as little as a year away from fruition at Marble. The small plant, called microhydro, could supply enough electricity to meet the needs of 150 homes.

The Crested Butte News reports that Larry and Dana Darien started thinking about the hydroelectric plant in 1984, when federal incentives still existed for such projects. Getting the project to work this time required financial incentives, a land-exchange with the U.S. Forest Service, and still plenty of cash, about $500,000.

Purchaser of the electricity will be Holy Cross Energy. It, like other electrical co-ops in Colorado, is required to get 15 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

No country for old men

JACKSON, Wyo. - It was a sad week for Jackson. The first young man to die had been Willie Neal, who was 19 and had won eight state Nordic skiing championships while in high school and served as a delegate last August at the Democratic National Convention. He died after being struck by a car.

His memory was honored with the rare use of a fire truck for his funeral procession, says the Jackson Hole News & Guide . Hundreds of people turned out for the two-hour service.

Then Wesley Baron, 27, the son of Jackson Mayor Mark Baron, died in a solo rock-climbing accident.

Even as a child, he had been one for the flying trapeze of ropes from trees. Growing up, he flew down the ski slopes as a racer. As an adult, he soloed the Grand Teton without rope. Elsewhere, he broke his arms and pelvis in a motorcycle crash, and then was in a coma. But coming out of the coma, never did he complain.

"He was unencumbered by life's tripwires," his father said.

Small is a relative thing

EAGLE, Colo. - Located 1,500 feet lower in elevation than Vail, the town of Eagle has a month or two more of summer every year. If winters are shorter and the real estate less expensive, mountains remain close at hand.

The Rocky Mountain News in 2003 described it as a "tiny town," and that's a relative truth. Until the mid-1990s, the town's only grocery store closed at 6 p.m.

But it's getting bigger. Last year it gained nearly 7 per cent in population, the second fastest growth spurt recorded among Colorado municipalities. Total population, including an adjacent subdivision served by the town, is 7,000 people. It now has three coffee shops; a bevy of new restaurants, including one that serves only organic food; and a smattering of shops.

For most people, it's smaller than where they came from, and that's just fine with them.

For long-time residents, though, the movement has been in the other direction. Asked how the town had changed, one local of several decades residency said: "It used to be that I knew most people and I didn't know a few people. Now it's the opposite."

Glass sees music like a stream

TELLURIDE, Colo. - Phillip Glass, the composer known for the repetitive nature of his synthesizer-based music, one theme slowly transitioning into another, was in Telluride recently as the composer-in-residence for the seventh annual Musicfest. He's been to Telluride several times before, including to the major film festival held on Labour Day Weekend.

Glass has written pieces for movies, although he considers his work operatic. Too busy to take a long hike while in Telluride, Glass was busy making revisions on his upcoming opera, "Kepler,ˮ and has also been working on an opera based on the life and death of Walt Disney.

But what he enjoys most, Glass told The Telluride Watch, is playing the playing the piano by himself. "I've always considered music an underground stream that runs through a person," he says. "Sometimes you're surprised by what comes out."

Charles in charge at Lake Tahoe

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - After the Angora fire destroyed several hundred homes near South Lake Tahoe in 2006, former professional basketball player and cultural icon Charles Barkley donated $100,000 to victims and hosted a dinner for all firefighters.

In response, South Lake Tahoe proclaimed Charles Barkley Day. The proclamation noted that Barkley, although not the best golfer, still had won the "hearts of many on Lake Tahoe's Southshore."

This year, reports the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Barkley has donated another $90,000. He was scheduled to be at Lake Tahoe for a golf tournament.