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Madoff mess continues in flurry of lawsuits

ASPEN, Colo. - At least four Aspen-area clients of disgraced money manager Bernard Madoff have sued the U.S.


ASPEN, Colo. - At least four Aspen-area clients of disgraced money manager Bernard Madoff have sued the U.S. Government's Securities and Exchange Commission, claiming the agency should have recognized "any of the smoking guns provided by credible third parties and industry experts."

The four individuals collectively seek more than $47 million in damages. The Aspen Times notes that a U.S. Bankruptcy Court filing in 2009 revealed at least 30 people in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley who had lost money to Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

Meanwhile, federal bankruptcy trustee Irving Picard has sued six people in the Aspen area - including several who are suing the SEC. He claims that these people took more money from Madoff's funds than they invested - and hence need to fork over money to pay the true victims.

In Vail, meanwhile, an auction of Madoff's fine art, jewellery and other valuables was held at a hotel before Christmas. Real Vail, a website news agency, reported that the auction was to include paintings by Henry Matisse, Norman Rockwell and Salvador Dali, plus more by Pablo Picasso and Peter Max.


Uranium a hot topic

TELLURIDE, Colo. - Ski towns and their down-valley neighbours often are like night and dusk. But Telluride and the uranium-rich slickrock country to the west are also like night and day, despite their close physical proximity.

The tension is the essence of a front-page story published Monday by the New York Times. Telluride, "an hour away by car and a universe apart in terms of money and clout," has emerged as a main base of opposition to a uranium-processing mill, called Piñon Ridge, notes the Times .

It would be the first new uranium-processing facility in the United States in more than 25 years. As such, the Times suggests, the sometimes bitter words in Colorado may well be the harbinger of an angry national debate to come.

The Telluride Watch has reported on the sparring for three or four years. In a sense, so did the New Yorker earlier this year. The magazine had a piece about the "uranium widows," women of these down-valley communities at Naturita and Nucla who support the uranium mill despite the fact that they lost their husbands to cancer caused, at least in part, by exposure to radioactive uranium in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Times explains that the down-valley regions are poorer than Telluride, but also have a different outlook. They think Telluride should butt out of their affairs.

"People from Telluride don't have any business around here," said Michelle Matthews, 31, a school janitor. "Not everyone wants to drive to Telluride to clean hotel rooms."

"They're saying not in my backyard - now how big is their backyard?" asked George Glasier, a local rancher and investor who founded Energy Fuels, the company that proposes the mill.

But Craig Pirazzi, a carpenter formerly of Telluride, remains suspicious of the uranium industry - which suffered a horrendous black eye because of its cavalier approach to human health 50 years ago.

"They say it's going to be different this time around," he said. "But our opposition to this proposal is based on the performance of historic uranium mining, because that's all we have to go on - and that record is not good."

A blogger on the Colorado Independent website notes further complexity in that the uranium processing would be in the Paradox Valley, somewhat distant from Naturita and Nucla. As such, it's not exactly in the backyards of the uranium workers, either.

The Denver Post , meanwhile, reports that the uranium might be exported out of the United States.


Lots of smarminess in novel

TELLURIDE, Colo. - Now comes a new novel set in Telluride, one of many over the decades that has skewered the culture of ski towns. The book, called Gatsby's Last Resort , by Bob Rubadeu, is peopled by such characters as bar denizen Rasta Joey, one-eyed bartender Digger; and a fabulously successful real estate broker named Patsy Susie Blaze.

The plot somehow involves the Valley Floor, the open space parcel at the entrance to Telluride, and greed inspired by the region's considerably inspiring landscape. There is, of course, a murder and a mystery surrounding it.

But the Telluride Watch 's Seth Cagin, in reviewing the book, says what gives the book energy and should give local readers pleasure will be the off-handed observations; the representations of the real Telluride; and "a plot that pays off when fantasy and reality, such as it is in these pages, collide and the satire reaches a dizzying level of laugh-out-loud nuttiness."


Literary roots in Tahoe Basin

LAKE TAHOE, Calif./Nev. - A new book, Tahoe Beneath the Surface , has been published. Author Scott Lankford offers less well-known lore about the lake and the basin.

For example, Mark Twain got his literary start as a newspaperman in nearby Virginia City, and wrote about his experiences in one of his most underappreciated books, Roughing It.

Some six decades later, John Steinbeck also got his start at Lake Tahoe. "It wasn't his best novel, but Tahoe is the place where Steinbeck became a writer," Lankford told the Sierra Sun.

Lake Tahoe has also had ties to organized crime. For example, Jack Ruby, who shot and killed Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, was once employed at Cal Neva, and Lankford said he unearthed compelling evidence that the resort was owned and operated by the Mafia through much of its early existence.

And for fans of celebrities, Lankford cites evidence that singer Frank Sinatra tried to commit suicide at a casino after his marriage to Ava Gardner fell apart.

And finally, Lankford contends that John Muir, who is best remembered in connection with Yosemite National Park, actually got his start in conservation when he saw the damage being inflicted by timber companies and sheep flocks in the Lake Tahoe Basin.


Instructor annoys Skico.

ASPEN, Colo. - Is the Aspen Skiing Co. a benevolent and quietly malicious monopolist when it comes to ski instructors? Arguments have been waged both ways in Aspen since a ski instructor named Lee Mulcahy leveled charges that the company was a corporate bum for paying its instructors $69 per day for lessons for which it charges $625 per day.

Mulcahy has now created an organization called People for a Living Wage.

"Corporations rarely enjoy transparency. Skico (the Aspen shorthand for the Aspen Skiing Co.) is no different," Mulcahy wrote in his Dec. 15 letter published in local newspapers.

The Aspen Times reports a flurry of letters in response, including one from the ski company, which seems to object as much to what Mulcahy failed to mention as to what he did say.

Jim Laing, vice president of human resources, said Mulcahy focused on the lowest of 396 pay grades for the 1,200 ski instructors, and those making $69 per day are less than two-tenths of one per cent, he said. Laing also said that the Mulcahy's presentation fails to acknowledge the entire compensation package. "We know we have the best package in the industry," he said.

Ski instructors have no union, although an effort was made to unionize in 1993.

In a filing with the National Labor Relations Board, Mulcahy claims that the company retaliated to his public letters and communications with other ski instructor by picking him out of an illustrious club of upper-level ski pros and by trying to muzzle him.


Snow caves near roads risky

VAIL, Colo. - Vail has lots of snow this winter - and also snow caves. But the fire chief, Mark Miller, warns against such honeycombs in drifts near roads, because of the danger of snowplow blades or the sheer force of a projectile thrown from a plow causing injury to anybody in such a snow cave, reports the Vail Daily.


Ski towns among leanest

PARK CITY, Utah - Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the most slender of them all?

According to the Park Record , Utah's Summit County - where Park City is located - has that distinction, according to a new survey. It has the nation's lowest rate of obesity.

The website for the U.S. Center for Disease Control, however, reports that Colorado's Boulder County has both the lowest rate of diabetes and the lowest rate of obesity. The two are correlated, both positively and negatively.

Boulder County has one notable ski area, Eldora, if it is better known for its university and federal laboratories.

Other ski counties also are found in the top-five rankings. In obesity, Boulder County is followed by Colorado's Routt County (Steamboat Springs), New Mexico's Santa Fe County, and then Summit County, Colorado (Breckenridge) and Summit County, Utah (Park City).

For counties having the nation's lowest diabetes rates, the results are much the same: Boulder County, followed by Montana's Gallatin County (Big Sky Resort); New Mexico's Los Alamos and Santa Fe counties; and then Utah's Summit County.


Solar panels adorn sewage plant

TELLURIDE, Colo. - The wastewater treatment plant for Telluride and Mountain Village now wears 480 solar panels, enough to produce 118 kilowatts of electric when the sun is out. The installation was enabled by a grant of $150,000 from Colorado, part of the federal stimulus package.

Telluride officials tell the Telluride Watch that the solar array is expected to deliver 10 per cent of the energy used at the treatment plant, one of the community's largest single users. The energy savings will be $14,000 annually. The payback on the investment, however, won't occur for a long time. In many cases, solar installations have a payback of more than 20 years.

Karen Guglielmone, the Telluride public works director, estimates that the town's energy consumption was one-sixth of the total used by the community.


Two dead following ski collisions

CASPER, Wyo. - Big or small, no ski area seems to be immune to accidents - and violence.

Near Casper, a 5-year-old girl and a 22-year-old man died after a Christmas Eve skiing collision at the Hogadon Ski Area. The Associated Press reports that the man was snowboarding when he collided with the girl and her mother, who had stopped on a trail. The mother was also injured.

In Colorado, a Georgia man was charged with misdemeanor child abuse for punching a teenage girl who bumped into his 4-year-old son at the Beaver Creek Resort. The Colorado Independent says the father apologized once he realized his son was not hurt.