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Invasion of the rich people



JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — The Washington Post recently visited the phenomenon that all ski towns of the West, in some way, understand very well. Ed Quillen, a columnist for The Denver Post , several years ago called it "the invasion of rich people," and it remains as good a summation as any of the process underway.

To tell the story, The Washington Post chose Jackson Hole, although the story could have easily been told in Aspen, Vail, or Telluride. There are notables: Vice President Dick Cheney, actor Harrison Ford, and World Bank president James Wolfensohn, as well as many others, lesser known but perhaps more wealthy.

It explained how low income tax rates in the Rocky Mountains (Wyoming has zero tax) encourages rich people from coastal cities to come and build vacation homes – or first homes. With the Internet, private jets, and FedEx, it is possible for rich people to live at Jackson Hole year round while keeping an active hand in their businesses on Wall Street, in Hollywood, or the Silicon Valley.

The story told of real-estate eccentricities of this upper crust, of people who must have custom fittings on everything. And of their considerable philanthropy, as good-cause spending has become de rigeur for social standing. And, without quite saying so, of their devotion to open space. Stated another way, they are content to see the local workforce commuting long distances, as there isn’t a lot of private land in this burgeoning economy of large, rural estates.

Brian Grubb, who heads planning for the Town of Jackson, says this: "The future is locked in; it can only get richer."

And a real estate agent, Bob Graham says this: "The herd instinct is as strong with multimillionaires as it is with any two- or four-legged animal."

In Jackson Hole, there was some umbrage to this report. Writing in the Jackson Hole News & Guide , sports columnist Michael Pearlman resented what he saw as the insinuation that "our town is little more than a tax shelter of the ultrarich and we have shed any other identity."

He sees a lot of trickle-down effect to like. "Road cyclists and their families enjoy a well-developed pathway system, we’re getting new synthetic soccer fields, and our public skate park is about to get an upgrade," he writes. "None of these projects would have been possible had some of the valley’s wealthy philanthropists not pulled out their checkbooks."

But, in a way, he conceded that The Washington Post story was dead on. Increasingly, he noted, the work force is fleeing to other areas, 30 to 45 minutes away, and commuting to Jackson. Like other resort valleys, schools in Jackson have had flat enrollments, despite great increases in population growth. There are a great many 20somethings, Latinos, and ultrarich and baby boomers and older, but GenXers and more generally those in the middle incomes are under-represented.

Immigrants gather in resort valleys

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. — Crowds of more than 1,000 people turned out in both the Aspen-dominated Roaring Fork Valley and the Vail-anchored Eagle Valley in support of immigrants Monday. Smaller turnouts were also reported in Jackson Hole and Telluride.

Police estimated 1,000 to 1,500 people marched from Avon, at the foot of Beaver Creek, to Edwards, reports the Vail Daily. In addition, police estimated a morning march of 650 people.

"This will show that we’re here and that we exist," said Ivan Hernandez, a 19-year ironworker from Avon. His employer supported his participation in the March.

"Let us love your country," proclaimed one sign. And another: "Stop H.R. 4437," a reference to the bill passed last year by the U.S. House of Representatives that would make illegal workers felons.

In Glenwood Springs, at the bottom end of the Aspen-dominated Roaring Fork Valley, a crowd assembled that newspapers variously estimated at 1,000 to 2,000. The protestors made a point of declaring their allegiance to the United States, as well as declaring their aspirations to succeed.

One 17-year-old student at Glenwood Springs High School, Heidi Marquez, read a piece she had written that was titled "I Believe in This Country." Brought to the United States while still quite young, she feels part of this country, she said. Her parents aren’t here to break laws, she reported, although she understands how difficult it must be for native citizens to see their country invaded. As for her dreams, she wants to become a surgeon.

Among those in the audience, reported the Aspen Daily News , was a 34-year-old from Aspen, Jose Zabala, who arrived with two flags. "I love this country. I love this flag. We can make it a better place if they give us the legal right to be here," he said.

Others assembled at a park in Glenwood Springs acknowledged that the immigration flood had also brought drug-dealers and other criminals, but they said the misfits were not in the majority. "We’re here to say we’re not criminals," said Raul Gonzales of Basalt, who arrived in 1989. "We’re just hard workers trying to get a better life for ourselves, our kids, so they can go to school."

In some of the gatherings in ski valleys of the West, there were as many Caucasians as Latinos. "It’s all about treating Latinos with respect," said one such Caucasian, Leslie Robinson, a Democratic Party leader and volunteer with the United Way organization in Glenwood Springs. "I can’t begrudge them wanting a piece of the American dream."

In Carbondale, between Glenwood springs and Aspen, about 80 per cent of the Latino students at Roaring Fork High School were no shows. The school is about half-Latino. And at the town’s Red Rock Diner, the owner put in a shift at the grill for the first time in nine years. Breakfast and lunch were served on paper plates, to reduce dish-washing.

In Aspen, high school students took their own lunches, construction sites had fewer workers, and streets seemed quieter, but overall the work slowdown went smoothly.

In Telluride, the Telluride Daily Planet reported 100 marchers, mostly Hispanic, and many of them wearing white – to symbolize peace – or clothing displaying American flags. Among the signs they hoisted was one that said: "I am a man just like you." They chanted: "We are workers, not criminals."

"I think it’s time for us to have a green card," said Isabel Matamoros, who marched with her 12-year-old daughter. "I feel like this is our country. This is our community, our town."

Colorado’s Summit County had no marchers. In neighboring Grand County, the immigrants in Winter Park and Granby all seemed to be at work. In nearby Steamboat Springs, most – but not all – immigrants remained at work, according to The Steamboat Pilot. In at least a few cases restaurants closed, partly for remodeling but also the boycott.

At Lake Tahoe, about 700 marchers walked down Ski Run Boulevard to the casinos. A rally in Jackson Hole attracted 200 people. They hoisted American flags and signs that said "Honk to support us" and "We’re a reality." They chanted "Sí, se puede," as well as the English translation, "Yes, we can."

Beetle-infested trees felled

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Chain saws are at work at the Steamboat Ski Area in an effort to remove 1,500 pine trees and prevent the pine beetles from spreading in June.

The wood is being hauled hundreds of miles, variously to Laramie, Wyo., and Fort Collins and Silt, both in Colorado.

A giant blowdown in October 1997 triggered an epidemic of the spruce beetle. While that epidemic is waning, the pine beetles are now gaining strength; reports The Steamboat Pilot. The ski area has some of both types of forests, pine and spruce.

Meanwhile, Colorado’s two senators have introduced legislation that proposes to allocate $227 million for managing bark beetles, wildfires and floods in Colorado. The bill proposes to reinvigorate the forest products industry and also encourage the use of beetle-killed trees for biomass energy burners. One of the senators, Ken Salazar, has warned of "perfect storm" conditions this summer for wildfires.

There are discussions about building a biomass plant in Colorado along the I-70 corridor.

Water supply contested

WOLF CREEK PASS, Colo. — Disputes and disagreement continue at Wolf Creek Pass, where Texas billionaire Billy Joe "Red" McCombs proposes to build 2,172 residential units next to a ski area that has no overnight lodging and not even much base area development.

The disagreement reported by the Durango Herald is whether there is sufficient water in late summer to sustain the city of part-time residents. The location is at 10,300 feet, near the Continental Divide.

"If you go up there in mid-summer and walk the drainages, there’s hardly any water, or just a trickle," said Ralf Topper, a hydrologist with the Colorado Geological Survey.

The newspaper reports a case of dueling water engineers. Martin & Wood, the firm hired by the developer, said the resort village could survive with 64 acre-feet of water storage, if necessary, although plans call for double that amount. But a firm hired by the ski area operators, which is fighting the project, foresees too little water in late summer and fall in the very dry years.

Bob Honts, the development’s front man, said the lesson is that you can hire experts to say what you want them to say. Of course, he was just talking about opponents of the development.

Spanish-language paper to expand

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. — In the early 1990s a page in Spanish began appearing in an Aspen newspaper. By 1995 the practice had spread to a newspaper in Avon. And several years ago a full-fledged Spanish language newspaper was created in Basalt, down-valley from Aspen.

Now that newspaper, La Mision , is being renamed La Tribuna , and is being expanded. It is to be distributed along the I-70 corridor from the Eisenhower Tunnel to Grand Junction, in addition to its native Roaring Fork Valley.

The newspaper was purchased by the Swift chain, which has a virtual monopoly in these areas of Summit County, Vail, and Aspen. The newspaper chain says the weekly newspaper will be based in Glenwood Springs but will have reporters in the Aspen and Vail areas, about 50 miles distant from each. Circulation is to be 9,000 weekly.

In Grand County, where Winter Park, Granby and Grand Lake are located, the newspaper chain has started a page written in Spanish. There was some local grousing, expressed loudly by at least one long-time local resident, who believes in English immersion to the hilt.

But the translator of the page, Evelyn Ramo, defended the page: "The Spanish page is just a window to the American culture, not an English/Spanish dictionary," she writes in the Winter Park Manifest. She says she helps immigrants understand snowboarding and snowmobiling, and how to dress for the cold, among other things.

Miners weigh comebacks

SILVERTON, Colo. — The startling prosperity of China and India continues to reverberate in mountain towns and valleys of the West. Those surging economies of Asia have caused heightened demand for all manner of minerals, which in turn is producing some attention to the potential of renewed mining.

Molybdenum mining at Fremont Pass, between Copper and Leadville, which has mostly been dormant since 1981, is almost certain to reopen in 2009. Phelps-Dodge is similarly showing renewed interest in new molybdenum mining on the outskirts of Crested Butte. And in San Juan County, where Silverton is located, owners of mining properties are examining the economic landscape.

"I don’t look for mining to make a quick comeback," said Larry Perino, reclamation manager for the Sunnyside Mine, which is located adjacent to the Silverton Mountain Ski Area. He said environmental regulations are extensive, the permitting process lengthy, and both labor and affordable housing now in short supply in Silverton. "You would have to see metal prices stay high."

But Todd Hennis, who owns a variety of mining properties near Silverton, seems more optimistic. The Silverton Standard reports that Hennis, who lives in Silver Plume, between Denver and Summit County, has been attending mining conventions in Canada in recent months in an attempt to probe interest.

Working in the favor of renewed mining near Silverton is the high content of zinc among the ores. Zinc was recently selling for $1.44 per pound in London, almost tripled from just a year ago. It sold for 45 cents a pound when the Sunnyside Mine closed in the early 1990s. Also a factor is whether prices for gold and silver, also common in the ores of the San Juan Mountains, continue to rise. Gold is now at $626 per ounce and silver at $14.10 per ounce.

Density the key

KETCHUM, Idaho — Bracing for an influx of new residents that is expected to double the population of the Wood River Valley in the next 20 years, local officials are continuing to look at a program to transfer development rights to Ketchum, Sun Valley and other towns.

The Idaho Mountain Express reports that 70 per cent of people participating in a planning process called Blaine County 2025 want to see population directed away from rural areas and to or near existing towns. The cities, says the newspaper, do not want more density, but had better "rub the sleep from their eyes" and face the need to accept higher density developments and to develop affordable housing."

Red Lodge waits for highway

RED LODGE, Mont. — Red Lodge is located at the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park. Although it has a ski area, summer is somewhat the livelier season, partly because Red Lodge is along the Beartooth Highway that is among the most scenic ways to see Yellowstone.

But last year, just before Memorial Day, that highway closed for the season even before it opened. Rock and mud slides clogged the highway, and then a $14 million road repair project kept it closed.

The Associated Press explains that the closure was tough on the economy of Red Lodge, with the resort-tax income down 11 per cent. That was less than what had been expected, however. The closure "helped us understand we’re more of a destination than we thought we were," said Denise Parsons, director of the Red Lodge Area Chamber of Commerce.

Water district elections a sign of times

VAIL, Colo. — It used to be that elections for the various water and sanitation districts were ho-hum affairs in Vail and other Eagle Valley towns, with just enough candidates – virtually all men with ties to development companies – to fill the slots.

Not now. Water has become a going concern, and so have the elections. Eleven candidates were vying for five seats on the board of directors for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.

Partly at issue, reports the Vail Daily, is how the water rights belonging to Denver in the Eagle River Basin are to be accommodated. One proposal is to create a reservoir near Wolcott, about halfway down the valley, to benefit both Denver and local interests.

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