Friday, December 17, 2010

Mountain Town News


Make IT, not roads

JACKSON, Wyo.—Information highways? Yes! Four-lane highways? No!

That would seem to be the common theme in rural parts of the West. Those that are lagging in bandwidth want more, more, more. Not so much highways.

State highway officials in Wyoming's Teton County want to expand the existing two-lane highway south of Jackson to five lanes. County Commissioners instead see a medley of three, four and five lanes. They may sue the state.

They are particularly concerned that the wider highway would be less permeable to wildlife.

Local officials, meanwhile, are also considering a proposal for 120 miles of fiber-optic line across the county and into Idaho.

The new line would increase Internet speeds five-fold to 100-fold, reports the Jackson Hole News&Guide. It would also provide redundancy. Earlier this year, cell phone service was lost for 26 hours when a flash flood several hundred miles away severed a cable.

In Colorado, the Silverton community, located high and remote in the San Juan Mountains, also seeks redundancy—and, for that matter, a fiber optic line of its own. The existing fiber optic line stops 16 miles short of the town near Molas Divide. Town officials say microwave, the community's existing link to the outside world, delivers too little bandwidth.

"Nobody is putting in microwave," says Patrick Swonger, a town councilman. "Nobody is doing that. It's all fiber optic. Those are the highways of the future."

Community officials charge that they were promised fiber-optic connection under a Colorado program launched in 2002 to connect all county seats, including Silverton.

Instead of delivering an information highway, says San Juan County Administrator Will Tookery, "they barely widened the existing mule train."


Vail and Aspen markets both surpass $1 billion

ASPEN, Colo.—A more vigorous real estate economy has been evident in the Vail and Aspen areas this year.

Eagle County, where Vail is located, surpassed $1.25 billion through October, while Pitkin County and Aspen were a few steps behind at $1.02 billion. Both had dropped below $1 billion last year.

During the boom years of the last decade, both had surpassed $2 billion, with Eagle County almost hitting $3 billion one year.

Aspen Skiing Co. plans to build more housing

ASPEN, Colo.—Aspen and Snowmass Village have plenty of spare bedrooms at the moment. So, the Aspen Skiing Co. had no trouble filling out its peak season employment roster of 3,500 for its four ski areas and associated enterprises.

Just the same, the company continues its effort to add employee housing, reports The Aspen Times. The company plans to add 600 "beds" to the existing 550 in Aspen and other locations in the Roaring Fork Valley. Some units are for seasonal employees, but the company also has built single-family and other housing types for year-round workers.

Company officials tell the newspaper that when the national unemployment rate falls below 6 percent, Aspen has trouble filling all its positions. The national rate currently hovers at slightly less than 10 percent.

The Times notes that tight housing has been the norm in Aspen for decades, and those periods of easy vacancies are rare and short-lasting.

Backcountry gates closed at Telluride

TELLURIDE, Colo.—Skiers who use the lifts of Telluride to gain the powder stashes of the Bear Creek area are miffed. The Forest Service announced that three backcountry gates from atop the ski area were being closed, and one more was being relocated.

All this has been in response to the purchase earlier this year of three mining parcels in the valley by Tom Chapman. Chapman has made a name for himself in Colorado during the last 15 years by repeatedly purchasing mining claims amid sensitive public lands, such as wilderness areas, then threatening development.

In this case, he warns of encroachment on his property by customers of the Telluride Ski and Golf Co., which is contemplating developed skiing in the basin. The property doesn't seem to be marked, however.

Locals tell The Telluride Watch that they believe the Forest Service has essentially taken the side of Chapman in the dispute. The gates should be left open, to provide public access to public lands, they say.

"Those gates access much more area than the private claims, and the Forest Service has a legal obligation to provide access to public lands," said Tor Anderson, director of the Telluride Mountain Club.

He went on to question whether access to public land elsewhere would be closed—for fear of public intrusion on private lands.

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