Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mountain town news


Eagle Airport gets runway extensions

GYPSUM, Colo. -- Eagle County Regional Airport has been closed for the summer while the runway gets extended 1,000 feet. The airport accommodates traffic primarily to the Vail and Beaver Creek area, but also has become a significant portal for Aspen-Snowmass visitors.

When completed, the 9,000-foot-long runway will be better able to accommodate jets flying from distant cities, including New York City. Because of the relatively high elevation, about 6,500 feet, and mountain topography, larger planes taking off from the airport during warmer, summer months cannot carry full passenger loads. This decreases the revenue. A longer runway will also accommodate longer flights during winter, theoretically even from Europe.

As it has for much of the work at the airport during the last quarter century, the Federal Aviation Administration will pick up 95 percent of the $22 million cost. Compared with the airport at Aspen, where the largest jet holds no more than 74 passengers, many jets at Eagle County Regional have room for up to 194 passengers

Park City hospital gets gizmos

PARK CITY, Utah -- While politicians in Washington, D.C., debate how to contain spiraling health-care costs, an $88 million hospital prepares to open near Park City. The Park Record says that a crane was required recently to install a $1.6 million magnetic-resonance imaging machine.

"It is rare for a hospital this size to have an MRI like this," said Jeff Kirk, the medical center's imaging coordinator. "We will have some really great equipment."

The hospital, about 30 miles from Salt Lake City, also has massive heat lamps still wrapped in plastic and awaiting their first hypothermia patient. The hospital also has a state-of-the-art decontamination room.

Steamboat signs subject of debate

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. -- Real estate agent Michelle Avery says all real estate signs should be prohibited by the city's sign code.

"Other resort towns have adopted this ordinance, and I feel strongly that Steamboat should do the same," she writes in The Steamboat Pilot & Today. "Simply stated, the signs are an eyesore."

A slew of bloggers beg to differ. One blogger, Ralph Cantafio, contends that outright elimination for aesthetic reasons is simply inappropriate.

"Government should be very careful to use only reasonable restrictions," he writes.

Part of his reasoning is that eliminating signs eliminates communication, free communication being a hallmark of a democratic society.


Aspen sales slow, Jackson jumps

ASPEN, Colo. -- Nothing in the numbers being reported in the Aspen area suggest that the economy there has started a comeback. Very much the opposite, in fact.

Sales tax collections through the first four months of the year in Aspen were down 20 percent. At nearby Snowmass Village, the drop was more precipitous yet—30 percent—while real estate transfer tax collections were down 80 percent.

Citing Land Title Guarantee reporting, The Aspen Times reports that dollar volume for real estate sales across Pitkin County was off 30 percent compared to 2008, which ended up being the lowest-volume year since 2004. Down-valley in Garfield County, where the resort economy intersects with the now faltering boom in natural gas drilling, the real estate sales volume was down 80 percent.

In Telluride, the story is the same: Sales tax revenues this year have been down 12 to 15 percent, and the real estate transfer tax at year's end may total only $750,000, compared to $5 million just two years ago.

Inexplicably, the story in Jackson, Wyo., seems to be different, at least in regard to retail sales, which have been down only 3 percent. Moreover, the Jackson Hole News&Guide reports hope among locals that the economy in Teton County will actually start growing again. Visitation to Yellowstone National Park, after being down for several years, has actually been up 11 percent this year, and at Grand Teton National Park it was even.

Colorado solar work could slow

CARBONDALE, Colo. -- While other construction hands have been looking for work, installers of solar panels were working overtime through much of 2009 in the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys. But now that work will likely slow down, too.

The problem, explains The Aspen Times, is that several organizations that were providing rebates to consumers installing photovoltaic panels have already exhausted their budgets.

For example, when Holy Cross Energy debuted its incentive program in 2004, nobody took advantage of the credits. But last year, 55 projects got rebates. This year, 92 projects had been allocated credits by the end of May.

Causing the surge this year was an additional stimulus, a change in the federal tax code, that added another inducement: a tax credit equal to 30 percent of a solar PV installation cost, minus any rebates.

Banff wardens can now pack heat

BANFF, Alberta -- Seven wardens in Banff National Park can now pack Heckler and Koch 9mm handguns while patrolling trails, campgrounds and roads. While it is not their main job, the wardens have the power to deal with dangerous, drunken or speeding drivers on the park's roads and highways. Parks Canada has authorized 100 wardens across the country to carry guns. A 2001 ruling found that wardens were at risk of grievous bodily harm, possibly death, unless they carried self-defense equipment.

Jackson teacher pay on the rise

JACKSON, Wyo. -- Teachers in Jackson and Teton counties may get raises next year, with the starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor's degree moving up to $54,500, while one with a master's degree getting not quite $60,000.

In Colorado's Summit County, base pay for teachers will be $37,000 during the next academic year. In Aspen, the beginning pay is $40,200. In the Carbondale-Glenwood Springs area, it will be $35,000.

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