Two weeks in the West

 

"It won't be serving the Wal-Mart and Kentucky Fried Chicken crowd."

-- Jeania Joseph, town clerk for Big Water, Utah, referring to the $200 million Amangiri resort slated for construction near Lake Powell.  It will boast $6 million villas, $1,200 a night rooms, and a 100,000-square-foot-spa.

EPA boots soot, sort of. Fine particles of soot emitted by power plants, refineries and diesel engines can lodge in the lungs and blood vessels, and are linked to respiratory and cardiac illness. In September, the Environmental Protection Agency tightened the standards on daily exposure to soot. But it did not further limit annual, or chronic, levels of soot, despite recommendations to do so from 20 of 22 members of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Council. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson says there is "insufficient evidence" linking long-term exposure to health problems. The EPA’s scientific advisory board, however, stated in a letter rebuking Johnson’s decision that there is "clear and convincing scientific evidence" connecting chronic soot exposure to adverse health effects.

Land commissioner candidates clash. A heated battle is under way in New Mexico for control of 9 million acres. The state lands commissioner oversees those lands, in addition to 13 million acres of oil, gas and mineral leases. Now, incumbent Republican Commissioner Patrick Lyons — a self-described friend to the state’s ranchers and oilmen who receives his biggest campaign contributions from gas and oil interests — is being challenged by two-time former commissioner Jim Baca, D. During Baca’s tenure as director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management under President Clinton, he attempted to overhaul the agency’s grazing policy; as Albuquerque’s mayor, he championed regional growth plans and water conservation. A late September poll showed Baca narrowly leading Lyons, 43 to 39 percent. Enviros can ranch in Utah. Between 1999 and 2001, the Grand Canyon Trust conservation group bought nearly 350,000 acres of grazing permits in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument from willing sellers. The idea was to reduce overgrazing; the Trust still runs some cows on the leases. But Kane and Garfield counties challenged the purchase, claiming "non-ranching entities" were not qualified to hold permits. On Sept. 29, the challenge was knocked down for good when U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell sided with the Trust, ruling the counties had failed to prove sufficient economic harm to support their case. Kane and Garfield counties, which have already run up legal bills to the tune of $125,000, claimed the permit sale would reduce property values by $750,000 and lead to nearly $200,000 in lost sales tax revenue. Judge Campbell dismissed those figures as "nebulous at best."

Trailers are being trashed to make way for luxury homes. Eleven trailer parks have been erased in northern Idaho’s Kootenai County in the past four years. In 2005 alone, five trailer parks in Boise were sold to developers, reports the Idaho Statesman. In Bozeman, Mont., Cottonwood Heights, Utah, and Reno, Nev., more are slated for closure. Typically, the land gets converted to new houses selling for as much as $1.5 million. The residents, who’ve been paying rents in the range of $350 per month, are tossed out into the West’s superheated real estate market, and struggle to find places they can afford. Often old trailers can’t be moved, and must be demolished. "It’s just really sad," Peggy Pruitt, a longtime resident of Farmer’s Korner trailer park in Colorado’s Summit County, tells the Summit Daily News. Her county lost a trailer park last month, and she finds no solace in the sight of new condos shooting up. "For me," she says, "this park is as affordable as I can get."

Photovoltaics come to the valley. Colorado’s Xcel Energy has selected Baltimore-based SunEdison to build and operate the largest solar power plant in the United States. The 8-megawatt facility will bring the power utility one step closer to meeting a state requirement to get at least 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015. The company has chosen an 80-acre site in the San Luis Valley of south-central Colorado — an area rated by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory as having the best solar conditions in the state — for the $60 million facility. While a high demand for photovoltaic components across the country may delay construction, SunEdison hopes to get the new plant online by late 2007.

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