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Op-ed: Ski industry bullies USFS on water rights

Proposed new water rule in the works for western ski areas

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Oh, oh, the water … bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — After being bullied by the ski industry in court and legislative arenas, the U.S. Forest Service has decided to shift its approach to administering valuable water rights associated with ski area operations in western states.

Instead of requiring resorts to transfer water rights, the Forest Service now proposes adding language to ski area permits that would ensure that enough water remains linked to ensure future operations. The water rights could not be sold separately from other resort assets like chairlifts and lodges.

That would address the main concern the Forest Service voiced when it first proposed changes to the administration of water rights a few years ago, but doesn’t address the bigger issue of resorts trying to establish total control over public resources. Continue reading

Summit Voice: Weekend headlines & most-viewed stories

Climate costs, ski area expansions and poaching

Bumblebee.

Study challenges pesticide link with bee colony collapse

Honeybees may be dying from ingesting remnants of insecticides, but that in itself may nor be causing the widespread colony collapse being observed in many areas, according to new research published in the journal Science.

Study: Many nuclear power plants in tsunami risk zones

The Fukushima disaster might not be the last time a tsunami damages a nuclear facility, according to a team of Spanish researchers who there are a total of 23 nuclear power plants at various stages of operation or construction in high-risk areas.

Colorado biologists planning statewide lynx assessment

Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists say they’re close to finalizing a plan to monitor the state’s lynx population by assessing habitat occupancy. If successful, the strategy would enable researchers to determine whether the population of endangered wild cats is sustaining itself over time.

Climate: Ice-free Arctic ahead?

SUMMIT COUNTY — Despite a steady trend of melting Arctic sea ice, experts with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration aren’t yet willing to make any predictions as to when the region will be completely ice-free during the summers.

Colorado: Elk poacher hit with $11,500 fine

SUMMIT COUNTY — A West Virginia man will pay an $11,500 fine for poaching Colorado wildlife. The fine includes a $10,000 penalty that applies when trophy-quality wildlife is poached — in this case a 6×6 bull elk taken on Devil’s Thumb Ranch property in Tabernash earlier this month.

World Tourism Day focuses on sustainable energy

SUMMIT COUNTY — In an era when reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been targeted as a critical priority, it’s more challenging than ever to reconcile tourism with environmental concerns.

Climate: El Niño stalls, outlook uncertain

SUMMIT COUNTY — This year’s El Niño is likely to be one of the weaker versions of the event in recent memory, according to experts with the National Climatic Data Center, who discussed the fall outlook and reviewed the long, hot summer at teleconference last week.

Global tourist visits on track to pass 1-billion mark

FRISCO — Travelers from some of the world’s biggest countries helped spur global tourism to a new record level during the first half of 2012, keeping the industry on track to pass the 1-billion mark for the first time this year.

Most-viewed stories

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Ski area water-rights duel now in political arena

Lawmakers ask Forest Service for a timeout on new permit conditions

The ski industry and Forest Service go head-to-head over water rights.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —A showdown over ski area water rights is now in the political arena, as four U.S. Senators have asked the Forest Service to delay implementing a revised permit condition that could require resorts to transfer certain types of water rights to the federal government.

In a Dec. 1 letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, Colorado Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, along with Senators John Barasso (R—WY) and James Risch (R-ID), asked the Forest Service to consider a moratorium on the new water rights clause.

The ski industry claims the permit conditions are a federal water grab, while Forest Service officials say the intent is to keep the water rights linked with the permitted ski area use. Read more details and background in this Summit Voice story. Continue reading

Breckenridge: Tough questions on the Peak 6 plan

Comment period extended to August 9

While dead lodgepoles dominate the landscape in much of Summit County, a healthy spruce and fir forest thrives on Peak 6 in the proposed expansion area.

By Jenney Coberly

*Audio recording of the open house: 

BRECKENRIDGE — White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams fielded an hour of questions from a large audience at the June 23 open house on the Peak 6 expansion plan, as some residents questioned whether the expansion would really help alleviate crowding at the country’s most-visited ski area.

Hands were still being raised when the Forest Service ended the question and answer session due to time constraints.

The meeting was lively and intense. The questions gave the impression the crowd was skeptical about the expansion proposal. Pro-expansion residents were not as vocal at the open house. Continue reading

Summit County ski areas submit trail, forest project plans

Keystone is planning some mountain bike trail improvements and a few other projects this summer.

Public comment period on summer projects taken through June 24

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Breckenridge and Keystone are planning a few small on-mountain improvement projects this summer, including a new waterline on the Peak 8 Freeway trail and Breckenridge and development of a new ski school trail on Peak 7.

Keystone will try to do some forest regeneration by transplanting trees from one part of the mountain to another, according to a blanket scoping notice issued last week by White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. Keystone also wants to cut about 20 trees at the bottom of North and South bowls to enable grooming in those areas. Continue reading

Commentary: More questions than answers on Peak 6

De-constructing the jargon

Tenmile Range skyline near Breckenridge, Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — It’s sometimes tough to wade through the bureaucratic language used by government officials, and the most recent update on the Peak 6 expansion plan at Breckenridge is no exception. It’s one thing to use precise language with descriptive terms and commonly accepted definitions — that helps ensure that everyone in the conversation is on the same page.

It’s another thing to use confusing phrases that might mislead readers and obscure the real issues. There was no author identified for the Peak 6 memo included in the town council packet, but it has the feel of being written by committee, and doesn’t do much to illuminate what’s at stake. It’s full of passive clauses and three-syllable words where one-syllable words would be just fine.

Here’s a little deconstruction, and some questions I would ask as a town council member. Some of the  original language from the memo is in bolded, followed by my comments in italics. Continue reading

Breckenridge town council eyes lift ticket, cannabis taxes

Breckenridge, Colorado.

The Breckenridge town council will discuss possible new sales taxes on lift tickets and other activities, as well as a special tax on medical marijuana at a May 25 retreat.

Town council to study new sources of revenue at May 25 retreat

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A 2.5 percent tax on lift tickets could generate $1.5 million dollars for Breckenridge, according to a financial study prepared for next week’s town council retreat, when council members will once again study how the town can develop a steady revenue stream for marketing, and to bolster other areas of the budget.

A special tax on medical marijuana is also on the table for discussion at the retreat (8:15 a.m., River Mountain Lodge, May 25). Taxable sales at the town’s six dispensaries have soared in the past few months, from about $70,000 in February to $117,000 in March. The memo prepared for the retreat show the town could collect about $36,000 from a 3 percent tax.

Town manager Tim Gagen said the town council is getting closer and closer to moving ahead with proposals for both the taxes. The preferred option is to partner with the resort on a plan that benefits both the town and the ski area, he said. A lift ticket tax could be part of a broader amusement tax in the town that would apply to theater tickets, bar and restaurant cover charges, winter sleigh rise and summer fun park revenue, Gagen said, explaining that staff took a good look at other resort towns around the West to get an idea of how such taxes are administered and spent in other communities. Continue reading

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