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Vacation home tax causing heartburn

By Allen Best CANMORE, Alberta – Some heartburn is apparent in Canmore after the municipal council there passed a property tax increase targeted at second-home owners.

By Allen Best

CANMORE, Alberta – Some heartburn is apparent in Canmore after the municipal council there passed a property tax increase targeted at second-home owners. About a third of Canmore’s residences are occupied part-time by out-of-towners, many of them from Calgary, located about an hour to the east.

The council argues that it needs the money, because the provincial government does not include the impact of part-timers when it doles out money to municipalities.

“Shame on you!” responded one part-timer, Peter Bauer of Calgary. In a letter published in the Rocky Mountain Outlook, he complained that he uses minimal services, just one bag of garbage per month in the trash bin, for example. “Too bad that weekenders don’t get to vote,” he said.

The tax is also opposed by at least one local resident, Gary Olauson, who sees the tax as an easy answer by the municipal council for solving the city’s financial crisis. The crisis, he argues, was created by a tendency of both present and past councils to spend more money than they had.

But Olauson also detects a new and growing resentment of the part-timers. “A lot of people are happy about this because it is a way to get back at the rich weekenders with their big SUVs,” said Olauson.

Locals, says Olauson, should appreciate the money spent by weekenders and vacation-home owners. “They go out to eat, they buy furniture and art, they hire local contractors and trades, they attend plays and sporting events. They are as much a part of this community as we are, and they deserve to be treated equally and fairly.”


LEED certification worth cost?

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – The school board in Steamboat Springs wants a new elementary school to be energy efficient and in other ways “green,” and it has nearly $30 million to work with. But to get the school certified as a silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building would cost an additional $500,000, and the school district is unsure it’s worth it, reports the Steamboat Pilot & Today.

“Many school districts are trying to direct their design teams to do the best they can, and use the LEED rating system as a guideline and look for those strategies that really add value to the project …” said Michael Holtz of Architecture Energy Corp.


Canmore adopts sustainability matrix

CANMORE, Alberta – Last November city officials in Canmore adopted a sustainability screening matrix for evaluating whether proposed real-estate developments are environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable for the community. Now, the regulations are being applied for the first time, to a major project called Three Sisters Mountain Village.

Chris Ollenberger, the president of the Three Sisters development firm, tells the Rocky Mountain Outlook he is at a “dead loss” as to where to start. Gary Buxton, the town’s senior manager of planning and engineering, said the purpose of the early screening tool is for developers to get an idea of whether their project is on track toward achieving sustainability goals. This avoids wasting time in the planning and engineering review, he explained.


Jackson plots green strategy

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Jackson Hole continues to ramp up its response to global warming.

Sparked in part by Aspen’s Canary Initiative, the town of Jackson in October formed a green team, consisting of several department heads, to plot a strategy. The town is now partnering with the county to effect a joint response.

Some of this response is a continuation of previous efforts. The town for several years has tinkered with biodiesel in its fleets. More recently, it has conducted a lighting retrofit in town offices. Lower Valley Energy, the electrical utility, estimated the town will save $13,000 on its electrical bill, but also be responsible for 32 fewer tons of carbon annually.

“It’s funny how talking about a carbon footprint and saving money by managing facilities well goes hand in hand,” said Mark Barron, the mayor, who returned from the conference in Aspen with a reformer’s zeal.

The Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce has also sponsored a forum on energy efficiency, the first of three meetings emphasizing sustainable business practices.

But despite the formal responses, trends analyst Jonathan Schechter of the Jackson Hole News & Guide detects a continuing disconnect between private, short-term individual actions and global, collective consequences. He cites the example of parking next to somebody at a restaurant who, to avoid returning to a cold vehicle, left the pickup running for two hours.

“Why do we do this? Because we can,” says Schechter. “There’s no obvious long-term cost for leaving our cars idling, and with our booming economy, what’s a few bucks in gas? Yet taking the longer-term view, environmental degradation — especially from climate change — poses some huge risks to our community.”


Breckenridge looks to grow

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – The Breckenridge ski area is looking to expand during the next six to eight years.

In addition to a new mid-mountain restaurant, a new teaching area, and more snowmaking, one or two more lifts are planned to service 400 new acres of intermediate and advanced terrain, reports the Summit Daily News.

The expanded infrastructure will give Breckenridge a comfortable carrying capacity of 18,000 skiers per day. It gets crowds of that size regularly, but does not accommodate them comfortably. Rick Sramek, vice president of operations, said Breckenridge does not foresee significant skier growth. “We’re not seeing an increase of peak days, but a filling in of the season,” he said.


New tram OK’d for Jackson Hole

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – The Forest Service has given approval to a new aerial tram at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Capacity of the new tram will be 100 passengers per cabin, compared to 55 passengers for the old tram, and with an hourly uphill capacity of 650, more than double the old tram.

The owner of the ski area, Jay Kemmerer, had first appealed for funding from the state government and other public sources, but last August said he would privately finance the $25 million cost. Dopplmayr/CTEC is to build the new tram, the largest in size and scope among ski resorts in North America.


Caps considered on ‘man camps’

CARBONDALE, Colo. – Town trustees in Carbondale are considering a limit on how many people can live in one house or condominium. The town’s newspaper, the Valley Journal, says that trustees and other town officials have discussed the touchy subject for several years, but have resisted creating “bedroom police.” They are also uncertain how to define a family.

The proposed regulation is a response to a burgeoning job market of the last 20 years in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley that has drawn a flood of immigrants from Latin America.

Carbondale figured prominently in an hour-long television program about illegal immigration that was broadcast in late December. The program, which was narrated by Tom Brokaw, took viewers into a four-bedroom home occupied by 18 people.

At one town meeting last July, 12 Carbondale residents voiced their frustrations about parking, trash, and noise in neighbourhoods where so-called “man-camp” houses have an unusual number of people in one dwelling unit, or where families occupy single bedrooms in houses. Footage didn’t make the final cut.

The newspaper says a parking permit program in a few neighborhoods seems to have had some success.


$1 million homes common

ASPEN, Colo. – Real estate prices down-valley from Aspen are rising at a startling rate. The number of homes sold in Basalt, 18 miles down-valley from Aspen, has more than doubled last year as compared with 2005, reports The Aspen Times.

“Early signs this year indicate $1 million deals will be commonplace,” added the paper. And the million-dollar sales may well include not only single-family homes, but lofts.

Developers are blaming Basalt’s town government, which rejected two developments last year. It is, they say, a case of supply and demand. But the Aspen Times notes a counter-argument from former Pitkin County Commissioner Mike Ireland. Prices in Aspen and the Pitkin County, despite all the growth-limitation controls, weren’t all that different from those in Vail and Eagle County, where there were fewer growth control measures.

With escalating prices in the resort valleys, both service workers and even professionals have moved farther down valley. Forecasts see the Glenwood Springs-Rifle area become a burgeoning bedroom community for the Aspen and Vail resort valleys. One study predicts that 63 per cent of jobs in Eagle County and 90 per cent of jobs in Pitkin County will be staffed by Garfield County residents by the year 2030.

But that prediction didn’t fully contemplate the boom in gas and oil drilling in the Rifle area. Garfield County Commissioner Larry McCown told the Glenwood Springs Post Independent that he expects the county will be a job centre, with more commuting into the area than those leaving the county.

Government and business officials in both resort valleys continue to be concerned about a lower-and middle-income housing base. In both Aspen and Vail, efforts continue to expand affordable housing within the towns while also investing in down-valley properties.


Fruit trees marginal in ski towns

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – Temperatures in mid-January dipped to 10, 20 and even 35 below zero in mountain towns. That’s plenty cold, but not the sustained, penetrating cold that was commonplace in the 1980s and before.

In fact, the climate has changed so much that trees once thought delusional, such as apple and cherry trees in mountain towns, may now be possible, according to the National Arbor Day Foundation.

Based on average low temperatures, the Nebraska-based group issues a 10-zone hardiness scale for trees in the United States. Zones range from the most hostile, 1, such as would be found above timberline, to the most tropical, 10.

Åfter gathering temperature data from 5,000 weather stations for the period from 1990 to 2005, the organization revised its hardiness zones. Many areas of the nation were one zone warmer, others even two zones warmer. Each zone shift indicated minimum temperatures that were 10 degrees less cold.

The new broad-brushed ratings may surprise tree-growers in mountain valleys. The new map puts Idaho’s Wood River Valley, where Ketchum and Sun Valley are located, in zone 5, suitable for all manner of apples, plus peaches, plums, and pears.

Ditto for Avon, at the base of Colorado’s Beaver Creek. It is, according to the Arbor Day Foundation website, a suitable place for apricots and cherries, similar to Denver.

Same goes for the Roaring Fork Valley, where Aspen is located, and even pecan trees are possible in some locations.

If the map can be believed, maple and apple trees have a chance in Breckenridge, Silverton, and Telluride — even Fraser, the self-proclaimed Icebox of the Nation.

“There’s obviously something a little goofy,” says Nicola Ripley, director of the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail. “We all agree that the climate is softening, but no way is Avon the same as Denver.”

The website for the Arbor Day’s Foundation does offer a caveat, noting that microclimates of specific areas may render the zones incomplete.

Several tree specialists told the Jackson Hole News & Guide that cold temperatures have diminished, but not enough to warrant wholesale changes.

“I would say that I have noticed that some things do better than they used to,” said Jen Hall, a nursery manager at Porcupine Greenhouse and Nursery in Jackson for the past 15 years. “Not the big trees like you see back east. “We’ve tried a couple of different varieties of the bigger tree maples, and they are kind of iffy.”

Hall added that he’s sticking to the trees recommended for Zone 3, where the average low temperature is –30 to –40 degrees Fahrenheit. Jackson Hole is now rated as both zones 3 and 4.

In Driggs, Idaho, on the west side of the Tetons, a nursery yard manager, Jared Searle, said he sees some hitherto unthinkable trees — like apples and cherries — surviving, if planted in sheltered areas or against a house. “I’d say the winters have gotten less nasty over the last 10 years,” he said. “I can see them bumping it up a level.”

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An epic winter for wind

SILVERTON, Colo. – Snowfalls in the San Juans this winter have fallen well short of records. Nonetheless, it’s been an epic winter in some near-timberline locations.

“I can’t remember this kind of wind,” said Jerry Roberts, an avalanche forecaster, who has been in Silverton since the 1970s.

Ski hut operator Chris George testified to the severity of wind at Red Mountain Pass. He has a hut above the pass, and he said the wind has left snow in places he has never seen it before in his 34 years there. One morning, he awoke to find three feet of snow on his bed, spindrift that had been blow in through cracks of the structure.


Revelstoke aims at greener agenda

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – With climate change expected to bump health care as the leading issue in Canadian elections, the community of Revelstoke is taking a more focused look at sustainable development.

“We have to play our part in ensuring that what is going to happen 10, 20 or 100 years from now is environmentally sustainable,” said Mayor Mark McKee. “We have to make our piece of the world better — not worse. Are we doing what we can with greenhouse gases, reducing pollution, reducing water waste and things like that?”

McKee told the Times Review that the municipality should adopted a law restricting idling by cars and trucks. “That’s going to annoy a few people, but it’s the proper thing to be doing.”

Revelstoke, he said, also must foster walking trails and green space, making it a “people place, rather than a vehicle place.”

Among the most controversial elements of McKee’s new “green” agenda is a proposed ban on wood-burning stoves. The wood-smoke, much of it from sawmill teepee-shaped sawdust burners, has been so bad during Revelstoke’s winter temperature inversions that some people have actually left the town. Revelstoke is No. 10 on the list of worst air polluters in British Columbia.

McKee has not decided how extensive the ban should be. He said he favors a ban in the residential areas and new housing developments, but grandfathering in existing wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. That has generally been the approach taken by ski towns in Colorado.

But one Revelstoke resident, Cornelius Suchy, argues that a wood-burning ban is the wrong answer. That yields more homes heated by burning of natural gas or oil — producing more greenhouse gases. Better, he says, to burn wood, but with stoves using the latest technology to reduce emissions. “Heating your food with wood is a good step toward reducing the community’s carbon footprint.

What does matter, he says, is the type of wood fuel, and how it is burned. “Continuously stoked pellet stoves already achieve emission levels close to those of mid-efficiency gas furnaces,” he writes in the Times Review. Old-style stoves produced five times more particulate matters, and worse yet if operated improperly.

The city government, he says, should offer incentives for the change-out of the older, inefficient wood-burning stoves for those employing the more efficient new technology.

Moreover, he adds, why haul propane in from Alberta to burn in British Columbia, when British Columbia has plenty of wood. “Wood is also a local resource, one that will be available long after fossil fuels have become too scarce or too expensive to burn in order to get residential homes to a mere 20 degrees Centigrade.”