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Snodgrass slowdown

Sarah Gilman | Nov 12, 2009 06:35 AM

As recently as this summer, it looked like Crested Butte Mountain Resort -- a ski area in western Colorado renowned for its extreme terrain -- might finally expand onto the forested slopes of uncharismatically-dubbed Snodgrass Mountain (Gusundheit!). 

The company has been pushing the expansion for decades, and a strong local opposition movement has been active for just about as long. Opponents have long been concerned that the proposal -- the most recent version of which calls for a handful of lifts and about 276 skiable acres carved out of national forest -- would cut off public access to popular backcountry skiing and snowshoe routes on Snodgrass, increase avalanche danger on other parts of the mountain and harm wildlife habitat, among other things.

Then the economy tanked. With locals scrabbling to make ends meet, it seemed resort officials might finally have their opportunity to really sell the project -- with its promise of new jobs and revenue -- to the community, as Rachel Odell Walker reported in her April, 2009, High Country News feature, "Go sell it on the mountain."

Not so much, it turns out.

On Nov. 5, Grand Mesa Uncompahgre Gunnison National Forest Supervisor Charles Richmond rejected the resort's expansion proposal and request for federal environmental review.

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Veteran namesakes

Ed Quillen | Nov 11, 2009 02:01 PM

    It's Veteran's Day. A military post, Fort Hood in Texas, has been much in the news of late on account of a tragic mass murder. And I'm a history buff.
 
    These threads all came together when I found out that Fort Hood was named for an army veteran -- Gen. John Bell Hood. He did serve in the U.S. Army from 1853 to 1861, when he resigned his commission and joined the Confederate army. So we have a U.S. military post named after a man who fought against the U.S. Army.
 
    That got me to wondering. How many active U.S. Army bases on U.S. soil are named after Confederate soldiers? And how many are named after Union officers?
 
    I had never heard of any current forts named after the major Union generals. No Fort [Ulysses S.] Grant, Fort [William Tecumseh] Sherman, or Fort [George H.] Thomas. There were some old facilities now closed, like Fort [John] Logan near Denver, but nothing current.
 
    So I did some quick searching (the list may not be exhaustive) for active Army forts in the U.S. and their namesakes.
 
    Fort Meade in Maryland, named for Gen. George G. Meade, commander of the Union's Army of the Potomac, and the victor at Gettysburg.
 
    Fort Sill in Oklahoma, named for Gen. Joshua W. Sill, who died in combat.
 
    Fort Carson in Colorado, named for Col. Kit Carson, who led various Union units in the West during the Civil War; mostly he fought Navajo rather than Confederates.
 
    As for the other Confederate namesakes:
 
    Fort Benning in Georgia and Alabama, for Gen. Henry L. Benning.
 
    Fort Bragg in North Caroline, for Gen. Braxton Bragg.
 
    Fort Gordon in Georgia, for Gen. John Brown Gordon.
 
    Fort Polk in Louisiana, for Gen. Leonidas Polk, "the fighting bishop." A West Point graduate, he left the Army for the clergy and became Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana. When the state seceded, he joined the Confederate Army.
 
    Fort Lee in Virginia, of course named for Gen. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.
 
    Add it up, and there are four active forts named for Union officers, and six named for Confederates who fought against the Union. What does this Dixie majority signify? An effort at national reconciliation after the Civil War? The power of Southern representatives and senators on military appropriation committees?
 
    Or that one way for an American to be honored by the U.S. Army is to fight against the Army, rather than serve in it? In that case, why isn't there a Fort Sitting Bull or a Fort Geronimo?
 

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An impossible Shangri-la

Jodi Peterson | Nov 11, 2009 06:30 AM

In August of last year, we wrote about the Jenson brothers' grand plans to turn a tiny, defunct ski hill in southwest Utah into a posh, exclusive mega-resort (see our story "An unlikely Shangri-la"). In building the Mt. Holly Club, the Jensons hoped to emulate the Yellowstone Club, the ultra-ritzy Montana ski and golf community.

But just a few months later, the Yellowstone Club declared bankruptcy and defaulted on a $315 million loan. This past May, the resort was sold for $115 million. Now, the Mt. Holly Club is indeed emulating the Yellowstone Club -- by following the same path to financial ruin. The projected 1,200 homes and condos never even broke ground before the tanking economy sent the project into bankruptcy. The decrepit ski area is now on the auction block for a starting bid of $1 million (its backers once estimated its value at $3.5 billion).

Jonathan Weber, publisher of NewWest.net, ruminated on the Yellowstone Club's demise last May:

The rich will always be with us, for sure, but in what quantities? To what extent will the contraction of the financial services industry, and the more progressive tax policies of the Obama Administration, diminish the pool of people who are able or willing to spend $5 million on a ski house at the Yellowstone Club?

In short, does the financial crisis represent a mere steeper-than-usual turn of the business cycle or a more fundamental structural reset?

The answer to that question will soon be clearly visible in the spectacular mountains of southwest Montana.

And now, the answer is also visible in the equally-spectacular mountains of southwest Utah.

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The case of the missing binders

Arla Shephard | Nov 10, 2009 06:29 AM

Central Washington’s Kittitas County, hungry for economic uplift since the fall of the timber industry, has been in the limelight a lot lately for scuffles over development.  The proliferation of subdivisions there has met sharp criticism from certain corners (see Cally Carswell’s recent article “Death by a thousand wells” on the area’s over-reliance on exempt domestic water wells), and earlier this year, the timber company American Forest Land Co. struck a deal with investment group Teanaway Solar Reserve to develop a large-scale solar plant on 400 of its acres in the county (see my HCN story “Solar salvation?”).

The most recent turn in the development saga involves an investigation that centers on a set of inconspicuous black binders. The story goes something like this: American Forest recently announced plans to develop part of its 46,000 acres of land into a “fully contained community,” which would include affordable, moderate and high-end housing. Wayne Schwandt, a principal investor in the company, said American Forest hopes to do a "land exchange" whereby zoning for some of its acres (39,744 of which are currently marked as commercial forest land) would be changed to accommodate commercial and residential development.

The announcement enraged Catherine Clerf, a member of the county's Land Use Advisory Committee, who alleges that the company -- which purchased the timberland in 1999 -- has always planned to carpet its holdings with houses, reports The Daily Record.

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Bluegrass in red rock country

Ariana Brocious | Nov 10, 2009 05:17 AM

This past weekend, the HCN interns took a road trip out to nearby Moab, Utah, to experience some of the West's most dramatic landscapes and hear some good ol' tunes at the yearly folk festival.

The sunset faded as we left Colorado, cruising through darkness on I-70 to the Cisco exit. On Utah State Route 128, we passed the historic Dewey Bridge, its charred remains illuminated by the rising moon. At the Fisher Towers campground, the dry, warm air swirled around the sculpted canyon walls and Orion seemed to rest his mighty form along the ridge line.

Rosy-colored marbled spires of rock greeted us with morning’s light. We spent the day out at Canyonlands National Park, climbing down to the valley floor where monolithic rock sculptures hang suspended in time.

Sunday we trekked into town for the Moab Folk Festival, an annual event featuring “traditional, contemporary and multicultural folk music” to help “foster awareness of socio-economic and environmental issues affecting our local, regional and national communities,” with artists like the duo Indigie Femme. Composed of musicians Tash, of the Bitter Water Clan on the Navajo Nation, and Elena, of Maori and Samoan heritage, Indigie Femme performed songs about uranium mining, Native traditions and female empowerment. Alaskan bluegrass band Bearfoot brought some young talent to the stage with their mix of old-time instrumentation, new grooves and beautiful vocal harmonies. The Jimmy LaFave Band rounded out the festival with mellow jams and a few classic covers like Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” sharing the stage with another festival performer, the Burns Sisters, for the last few songs.

The outdoor stage was framed by red rock hills behind, where mountain bikers and OHVers have been battling for the past few years--forcing the BLM to step up off-road regulations.

Leaving Moab behind, we meandered back along the Colorado River, thankful that the U.S. Department of Energy has finally started moving 16 million tons of uranium tailings from the riverbanks, and watching somewhat sadly as the bold, soaring canyon walls melted into sweeping plains before reaching the interstate again.

 

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"A deeply troubled idea from the start"

Cally Carswell | Nov 09, 2009 09:29 AM

In 2000, when the federal government shelled out $101 million to buy what’s now the Valles Caldera National Preserve, it made one thing clear: The government wouldn’t be the preserve’s cash cow forever. But nine years later, the preserve isn't close to weaning itself off federal funding, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office.

Valles Caldera started as an experiment in public lands management. The 89,000-acre ranch was purchased for preservation, but would be managed as a working ranch by a for-profit government corporation called the Valles Caldera Trust. By 2015, the feds expected the trust to be able to support itself financially, a goal the GAO now says is out of reach:

[The Trust] is at least 5 years behind the schedule it set for itself in 2004. According to Trust officials, a number of factors—including high turnover among Board members and key staff and cultural and natural resources and infrastructure that were not as healthy or robust as originally believed—have delayed its progress.

... Specifically, the Trust lacked a strategic plan and annual performance plans, and it had not systematically monitored or reported on its progress ... The Trust’s financial management has also been weak. Consequently, it has been difficult for Congress and the public to understand the Trust’s goals and objectives, annual plans and performance, or progress.

... [B]ecoming financially self-sustaining, particularly by the end of fiscal year 2015 when federal appropriations are due to expire, is the Trust's biggest challenge.

 

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Commitment issues

Arla Shephard | Nov 05, 2009 08:10 AM

Today, for the first time in 15 years, leaders from the United States' 564 federally recognized Indian tribes met with political leaders in DC to discuss the problems that blight their communities: lack of adequate health care, lack of adequate employment, lack of, well, a lot of things.

The day-long summit began with opening remarks from President Barack Obama, who promised to make good on some of his campaign commitments: 

Without real communication and consultation, we're stuck, year after year, with policies that don't work on issues specific to you and on broader issues that affect all of us. And you deserve to have a voice in both.

I know that you may be skeptical that this time will be any different. You have every right to be, and nobody would have blamed you if you didn't come today. But you did. And I know what an extraordinary leap of faith that is on your part.

The President continued with a laundry list of policies and appointments he's made to prove that, this time, the tumultuous relationship between the First Nations and the federal government will smooth out a little bit: Huge chunks of the federal stimulus package have gone to obtaining more jobs on reservations, improving educational opportunities and fighting domestic violence in Indian Country. In 90 days, Obama expects every Cabinet member to give him a detailed plan on how they're going to implement President Bill Clinton's 1994 executive order to establish regular communication between the tribal and federal governments.

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Coming soon to MTV: The Oilfield Blowouts

Jonathan Thompson | Nov 04, 2009 09:40 AM

Don't ask me how I found this. Okay, go ahead and ask: I was actually hard at work researching a story and, during one of those long, winding, fruitless trips down Google lane, I stumbled upon this. It was at roughneckcity.com, which is such a cool site that I'm hesitant to share it with all of you.

A couple of years back, Ray Ring wrote a powerful (and award-winning) cover story for HCN: Disposable workers of the oil and gas fields. Like so many of Ring's stories, it shed light on things many of us would rather not look at (see his most recent, Roadless-less, for another example of this sort of investigative reporting).

I immediately thought of Ring's harrowing story when I saw this and other videos on the roughneckcity site. Then, I thought: Wha...??? Apparently, some roughnecks cope with the agony and loss of oil rig accidents by making and posting videos of them, like this heartfelt piece, complete with Eagle's soundtrack.

 

Find more videos like this on Drilling Ahead

 

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Mules aren't burros

Ed Quillen | Nov 03, 2009 08:00 AM

    Lately I've encountered two novels which annoyed me because they treated burro and mule as synonyms, which they are not. The most recent was Abandon, by Blake Crouch; the title of the other one does not leap to mind.
 
    Mules and burros are related, but they're not the same animals. Start with the familiar horse, Equus caballus. An uncut male is a stallion and a female is a mare.
 
    Then there's the burro, Equus asinus, also known as an ass or donkey. Males are jacks and females are jennies.
 
    Donkeys and horses can interbreed and produce offspring which are almost always sterile. Most commonly, a jack breeds with a mare to produce a mule, which has big donkey-like ears.
 
    When a stallion and jenny breed, the result is a hinny; they're odd-looking beasts and the only time I've ever seen one was in a comedy act at the county fair rodeo.
 
    I asked a mule-breeder friend about the differences between hinnies and mules: "A mule generally gets the best of both parents -- a donkey's smart head on a horse's strong body. A hinny usually turns out the other way around, which is why hardly anybody breeds them."
 
    The burro has bloodlines that breeders track. As for the sterile mule, the old saying is that he has neither pride of ancestry nor hope of posterity (though racing mules have been cloned in recent years).
 
    The big ears on the mule inspired the name of our Western mule deer; the jack rabbit, with the long ears, gets its name from jackass-rabbit.
 
    But even though they both have equine features with some impressive ears, the mule and the burro (or ass or donkey) are not the same, and I wish people would quit confusing these animals that continue to do a lot of the world's hard work.
 
 
 

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Indian Eco-battles

Ariana Brocious | Nov 03, 2009 08:00 AM

Today the Arizona Republic wraps up an excellent three-part series on coal, water and green jobs conflicts on Indian lands in northern Arizona.

Sunday's story focuses on the Navajo Generating Station near Page, responsible for pollution haze over the Grand Canyon and ranked as the nation's third-largest emitter of nitrogen oxides by the EPA, who now wants the plant to clean up its act:

In the two months since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules that would require costly new air-scrubbing equipment at the plant, the debate has escalated into a war of increasingly dire predictions: Tribal economies could collapse. The plant itself could close. The price of water sold to Phoenix and Tucson could quadruple.

The coal-fired power plant and the mine where it gets its coal -- which lies on the Hopi and Navajo reservations -- provide hundreds of jobs to the tribal communities. The plant is also the powerhouse behind the Central Arizona Project (CAP) Canal, providing the electricity to move water from the Colorado River down to the thirsty southern metropolises of Phoenix and Tucson. The EPA's proposed rules would result in costly changes to the plant, costs which would likely be passed on to power customers.

Monday's story took a closer look at Joe Shirley Jr., president of the Navajo Nation, and his battle with environmentalists and tribal concerns, something HCN editor Jonathan Thompson recently discussed. Shirley, who denies the impacts of climate change, says he's fighting for the interests of the Navajo people:

"I'm working on independence, period," he said. "If it takes green jobs to get us back to standing on our own two feet, I'm for green jobs. If it takes Desert Rock or Navajo Generating Station...I'm for Desert Rock and Navajo Generating Station."

Today's story reports on a similar dilemma on the Hopi reservation, where jobs in the coal mines and power plant clash with environmental conservation interests--leading to conflicts among tribal government members. Some believe coal is a resource that should be exploited by the tribe to boost the economy, while others see the industry threatening the tribe's ecological heritage.

All three stories present different angles of the same larger story: in the debate between economy and ecology, who wins?

 

 

 

 

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