Mountain News: Plastic grocery bags now a no-no in Vail 

click to enlarge SHUTTERSTOCK PHOTO - BAG BAN Vail, Colo. joined Aspen and other ski resorts in banning single-use plastic bags this month.
  • Shutterstock photo
  • BAG BAN Vail, Colo. joined Aspen and other ski resorts in banning single-use plastic bags this month.

VAIL, Colo. — Single-use plastic bags will no longer be available at Vail's two big grocery stories beginning on Saturday, Aug. 1. Paper bags will be used instead, but only at a cost of 10 cents a bag.

The law intends to nudge shoppers into taking their own bags to stuff in the lettuce and cantaloupe and, since this is Vail, sushi and other exotic items. Small bags for apples, bulk items and so forth will still be allowed.

The town is calling it the Kick the Bag Habit program. Stores can keep 20 per cent of the money collected in bag sales for their costs. The rest will go to a town program that provides bags to visitors and residents.

The two grocery stores in town have been giving out an estimated 4,000 bags a year.

Communities and countries across the world have been cracking down on the proliferation of plastic bags. The bags can be recycled, but a report for Los Angeles city government found that an estimated five per cent of plastic bags in California and across the United States are recycled.

From 2003 through 2007, the United States consumed roughly 400 billion single-use plastic carryout bags, according to a report given elected officials in Vail.

San Francisco outlawed plastic bags in 2007, Portland, Ore., in 2011, and Austin, Texas, in 2013. This month, single-use bags became illegal in all of Hawaii.

Telluride was first among ski and mountain towns of the West, banning plastic altogether and adopting a fee on paper bags. Aspen and Carbondale, which are located 48 kilometres apart, followed in 2011.

Breckenridge took a different approaching, levying a 10-cent fee on all bags at all stores.

Whistler has been working with grocery retailers on a six-month program in which the stores voluntarily charge consumers five cents per bag.

Vail chose to emulate its rival, Aspen, and by extension, Telluride, but at a lower cost: 10 cents for paper bags, instead of 20 cents.

Some mountain towns have adopted bans but faced pushback from consumers. Basalt voters, located near Aspen, overturned the council ban on plastics, and so did those in Durango.

Mark Hoblitzell, a municipal staffer in Vail who did most of the homework required of elected officials, said the decision by the council in March has been fairly well received. He said that of every 10 people he has talked with, eight have been supportive. The other two were quite upset.

Vail intends to next move into a program that eases other retail merchants out of the bag habit, but it first has to implement the existing ban.

Antler arches in Jackson good for 50 more years

JACKSON, Wyo. — The town square in Jackson is a many-antlered place. The four corners each have an arch made of antlers, about 2,000 antlers per arch, assembled around a steel arch.

The arches are something to remember and a photo-op like few others. On any given day, scores of visitors can be found standing next to the arches, admiring the handwork and taking photos of themselves and companions.

The arches were first created 60 years ago. The town is bordered on its northern side by the 9,995-hectare National Elk Refuge. During winter, the refuge has 14,000 elk that shed their magnificent crowns each year.

A decade ago, a half-century of weather and high-elevation sunshine had taken a toll on the arches. In response, the local Rotary Club joined with the town to rebuild them. The fourth and final arch was completed in June.

Officials tell the Jackson Hole News&Guide that the four arches together have 25,400 kilograms of antlers and, given the shifting price for antlers, their total value is $450,000.

Larry Pardee, director of public works, says the arches are icons that speak to the cultural tradition of Jackson and, more broadly, Jackson Hole and have somewhat of a brand logo. "I'm still impressed with how many people are taking pictures in front of the arches at any time of the year," he said.

Why homeless people stay in Jackson Hole

JACKSON, Wyo. — Housing has been scarce in Jackson and Teton County for a long time. But coming out of the recession, the Jackson Hole News&Guide began reporting a tighter housing pinch than anyone could remember.

Since then, the vise has always tightened — and summer is infinitely more busy in Jackson Hole than winter.

Outlying communities, such as Driggs and Victor, in nearby Idaho, have housing. This creates a slog of commuters from Jackson every day at about 5 p.m. to rival that of most cities. There's a similar pulse of traffic along the Snake River to Alta, about 32 kilometres away.

But many people want to avoid these time-chewing commutes. The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports about a history teacher, David Wells, who had driven across Teton Pass perhaps 1,500 times over the years, mostly to go to work. He and his family liked their town in Idaho, but since April they have been living in a new house, co-developed by his employer, the school district, at Wilson, just 13 kilometres from their jobs in Jackson Hole.

"I used to spend eight 40-hour work weeks in a car during a school year," Wells said. "That's two months of time freed up to be with my child, go to the park or spend time with friends."

Said his wife, Stefani Wells: "The quality of life is much higher because we are not commuting."

But others haven't had the same option. There are many reports of people living in the woods. One woman, for example, has been curling up each night this summer with her dog in a Thule ski rack at her forest campsite.

In April, a short documentary called Postcards from Paradise was released by Raul Gutierrez. The documentary tells the story of one of the homeless local employees, Gerson Giron, who took to living out of his SUV.

This begs the question of why Giron chose to remain in Jackson Hole if housing is so scarce? The answer: because it is Shangri-La.

"If I lived in Texas and something similar was going on there, I would have packed up and moved," he said. "Jackson is so beautiful and inspires me to take pictures. I couldn't imagine living anywhere else:"

That's also the story of Sam Green and Erica Hookland, with their yellow lab, Toots. They recently had a yard sale, to pare their possessions, after rent went up more than what they could afford. He arrived in Jackson Hole 15 years ago to ski, and she six years later after college.

"This is our home, just without a house, I guess," said Hookland. "And it's beautiful."

Taos steamed up about expansion of its airport

TAOS, N.M. — If Taos goes forward with a $24-million runway expansion, who wins and why? And who loses?

Real estate agents think they will gain. They recently took out a full-page ad in the Taos News. Proponents also argue that travelers will gain, because the longer runway will be safer, especially for bigger planes. That's also the inevitable argument of the Federal Aviation Administration, which commonly funds 90 per cent of such runway expansions.

But what about the residents of the 650 houses near the new runway? Writing in the Taos News, letter-writer Seth Brown predicts losses to the traditional ways of Taos. "We don't want this beautiful, very old agricultural community to be sold out to those who will come in their private jets .... We need to take back our government in Taos or developers will have it their way and our farmland will disappear."

But another reader, blogging on the newspaper's website, sees only incremental change for the good.

"Hopefully, it will allow more tourists to arrive here. If we decide to get serious about marketing to find them. Many of them will be wealthy. They will stay at and use our area businesses. They will build second and third homes here, using local labor and suppliers. In other words, not much will change. Maybe the economy will grow a little."

Another writer advised Taos to consider the value of beefed up air service to Aspen, Palm Springs, and other high-end resort areas.

Stimulus package yields Taos fibre-optic network

TAOS, N.M. — Taos is gaining a strong fibre-optic network, and it will, in the words of one manager, produce a "clean industry that's not going to take away our water, that's not going to disrupt our cultures."

Kit Carson Electric, a co-operative that serves the Taos area, is creating the high-speed Internet backbone. General manager Luis Reyes said it provides "speeds we've never seen north of Albuquerque." He emphasized the capability of the fibre-optic network for economic development.

A variety of electrical co-operatives across the country have been getting into the business, not just of delivering power, but also providing high-speed Internet connectivity. In Colorado, Delta-Montrose Electric has also been rolling out a fibre-optic network.

The Taos News explains that the fibre-optic project in Taos began in 2011 when a $44-million grant and $20 million in loans were made available through the recession stimulus package passed by Congress. About one-quarter of the 8,000 hookups to home and business connections to the main line have been completed.

In Colorado, The Aspen Times reports that Pitkin County Commissioners continue to study the feasibility of underwriting expansion of local broadband into the less urbanized areas of the county, outside Aspen and Snowmass. Estimated costs range between $9.2 million and $13.7 million.

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