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Copyright © 2014 Telluride Daily Planet

Posted on: January 3rd, 2014 by tommyj

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2013 in review

By Planet Staff
Published: Wednesday, January 1, 2014 3:00 PM CST

Drought turned to deluge. A sugar tax ignited fierce debate. The town’s much-loved library got caught up in controversy. And Telluride prepared to become one of the first municipalities in the country to regulate the sale of retail marijuana.

These are among the stories that colored the year 2013 in Telluride. It was a year of ups and downs, of growth and politics — the economy continued to strengthen thanks to another busy summer, town voters defeated tax measures, several of Telluride’s festivals celebrated major anniversaries and the community grieved the loss of beloved locals.

The election brought politics to the forefront in 2013, with eight candidates vying for four seats on the Telluride Town Council and several ballot questions that stirred up heated debate on street corners and in election forums. 

The Nugget Theatre closed, then reopened. Telluride was almost the location for a Hallmark Channel television show. CDOT crews built a roundabout at Society Turn. And the Pearl Property was the subject of yet another ballot issue.

Heavy monsoons moved in mid-summer, replacing alarming drought conditions, triggering mudslides and making the summer mountains soggy. A hot-button proposal to build a uranium mill in Paradox Valley was put on hold after years of litigation and public debate. The Telluride Film Festival and Town of Telluride transformed the Hanley Pavilion into a new state-of-the-art theater. And the Telluride Ski & Golf Company brought in a new guard of management.

And with the best start to the ski season in recent memory, continued growth in local festivals and some major infrastructure projects on the horizon, 2014 is looking promising.

Following is The Planet’s recap of major news stories in 2013.

Drought turns

to deluge

What started off as another tinder-dry summer in the San Juans took a drastic turn when heavy monsoons arrived in July, and the year ended with plentiful precipitation.

For the second year in a row, drought conditions dominated the spring and early summer in San Miguel County. Daily temperatures in June were notably high, with only about one-tenth of an inch of rainfall in the month, and that stacked on top of a very dry May. Dry conditions triggered fire bans, led to water restrictions and caused local officials to cancel the town’s famous Fourth of July fireworks display for the second consecutive year. 

The first monsoon of the year arrived on July 12, however, ushering in a series of downpours that turned the mountains lush shades of green, brought myriad rainbows to the box canyon and made mushroom pickers happy.

But the rains also played havoc with the region by triggering several mudslides. On July 16, a massive slide buried a four-mile stretch of Highway 145 under rocks, mud and debris, forcing a closure of the road that lasted almost 12 hours. It was one of many slides that closed roads, clogged up culverts and ditches and disrupted traffic this summer.

The above-average rains continued through August and into September. Though they brought a banner season for bolete mushroom foragers, the rains also made for a muddy Blues & Brews festival, a soggy Jazz Fest, a rainy Doo-Dah and a muddy late-summer season for hikers and bikers. Some 5.34 inches of rain were recorded in Telluride in September, 3.27 more than the month’s average.

And soon, the rains turned to snow. White stuff started to fall in town in September, and by the time Thanksgiving arrived, several large snowstorms had rolled through, building an impressive snowpack in the mountains.

Early storms contributed to the best start to the ski season Telluride has experienced in recent memory. Two days after Opening Day, Telski opened up terrain off of Lifts 5 and 6, and followed that up by opening more terrain nearly every week— including Lift 9, Prospect, Gold Hill and Revelation Bowl. 

With more that 100 inches of natural snowfall this year, hike-to terrain in Black Iron Bowl was open before Christmas, and Telski had the earliest opening of Palmyra Peak in history last Friday.

Despite the above-average precipitation, most of San Miguel County is still classified as “abnormally dry” by the United State’s Drought Monitor.

Telluride prepares for retail pot sales

In 2013, the Town of Telluride drafted and passed an ordinance that regulates the sale of retail marijuana in town, making it one of the first municipalities in Colorado — and the country — to allow sales of recreational marijuana.

The passage of Amendment 64 in November of 2012 made it legal for adults 21 and older in Colorado to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, but the implementation of retail pot shops has been delayed as the state drafted rules for exactly how recreational pot should be grown and sold.

While many municipalities have opted to ban sales or enact moratoriums, the Telluride Town Council instead decided to hammer out its own regulations, which means that existing dispensaries can begin selling retail marijuana on Wednesday (Jan. 1).

The decision brought little controversy in Telluride, where medical marijuana dispensaries have been operating with few problems for the last couple of years, and local officials expect the process to go smoothly.

Telluride’s ordinance includes a framework that allows the town’s current medical marijuana dispensaries to transition into retail stores if they choose, and to operate as dual retail and medical facilities under certain conditions. It also sets out rules on things like signage, ventilation and cultivation. It allows cultivation in commercial buildings, imposes a proximity limitation that keeps retail marijuana shops at least 500 feet away from schools and contains signage regulations that makes it unlawful to use advertising that is misleading, deceptive or false or that appeals to minors. It also makes it unlawful to consume, use, display or grow marijuana on town-owned or leased property.

Telluride’s three dispensaries intend to be open for retail business (to those 21 and older) on Wednesday morning. The dispensary owners have been working for months on the paperwork-heavy process of obtaining licenses from the state.

Library logs

tumultuous 2013

For the Wilkinson Public Library, 2013 was a year filled with turmoil as the board of trustees continued to deal with the fallout of their decision to close the library on Sundays.

In an effort to help stem a projected 15 percent drop in revenues, the board decided to close the library on Sundays for 2013. The move sparked outrage from some, who criticized what they said was the board’s lack of transparency. A debate about the role of a library in the community would follow that included what some saw as inflated management salaries.

The board took the community’s concerns to heart and in June executive director Barb Brattin hired a consultant to create and implement an information-gathering plan to assess the public’s priorities about how the library should spend its money. But even that decision proved controversial as some questioned the consultant’s credentials and methodology and said the $4,000 would be better spent elsewhere. Survey respondents said being open seven days a week was the second most important service to maintain, after collections.

In August, the board fired Brattin. The next month, they brought in former Fort Collins Public Library Director Brenda Carns as interim director with the goal of helping with the search for a new director, planning a 2014 budget and calming the waters after a turbulent year. One of Carn’s first moves was to recommend reopening the library on Sundays. In October, the board decided to revert to the library’s 2012 hours beginning on Dec. 1, reversing its decision one year earlier to close on Sundays. The board hopes to hire a new director by spring.

Although the organization had a year filled with upheaval, including a high rate of staff turnover, board president Judy Thompson said the board learned a lot. In December the board approved a 2014 $2.4 million budget, with $177,000 in cuts to total expenditures.

“It’s had a lot of ups and downs and it’s still ongoing,” she said. “I think all of these things, though traumatic, will have some good outcomes in the long run.”

Tax measures fail, incumbents retain seats

Voters rejected two local tax measures, let Telluride Town Council incumbents keep their seats and said yes to splitting the Pearl Property but no to agriculture on the land in November’s election.

The hotly contested ballot measure 2A, known as the sweetened beverage tax, fell by a wide margin, with 68 percent of voters casting no votes. Measure 2A proposed to impose a 1-cent per ounce excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, sports drinks and energy drinks sold in town to raise money for childhood health programs.

The measure was the most divisive and high profile issue in the election. It fueled lively debates over the role of government and obesity, and got the attention of outside parties who pumped tens of thousands of dollars into both the pro and anti campaigns.

Kick the Can Telluride, the group behind measure, put together a highly visible campaign that featured forums with outside experts, events for families, newspaper ads, a website and more. The campaign was funded largely by Action Now Initiative, a Texas-based nonprofit led by John and Laura Arnold, part-time residents. Its representatives argued that the pioneering tax program would help fight childhood obesity by keeping local kids active and put Telluride on the national map for its progressive policies. 

The No on 2A Campaign, meanwhile, which formed to fight the tax measure, launched its own offensive of advertisements, letters and tax talks. That campaign was led by Village Market Manager Bob Harnish, and was funded largely by the Colorado Beverage Association and the American Beverage Association. Harnish said the tax would have unfairly burdened business owners and branded Telluride as a tax trap.

More than $100,000 was funneled into the campaigns, which ruffled the feathers of many locals who were turned off by the attempt of outside influence.

A San Miguel County measure to reinstate a 1 percent residential utilities tax to fund greenhouse gas reduction programs also failed on Election Day with just 35 percent of the vote. Ballot measure 1A would have raised between $150,000 and $170,000 by collecting 1 cent on every dollar spent on residential utilities. The money would have been used to fund greenhouse gas reduction programs. Commissioner Joan May said she was disappointed the proposal was voted down by nearly two to one, but if it alerted people to energy-saving programs that are currently available, it was worth it.

“I’m choosing to believe that the people in this community really do care about climate change,” May said. “We just need to do a better job in educating them about how funds could be used effectively.”

(County commissioners recently approved $5,000 in funding for local sustainability group EcoAction Partners to implement a grant program much like the one envisioned in 1A.)

In the Telluride Town Council race, voters re-elected Ann Brady and Bob Saunders to another four years and gave newcomers Todd Brown and Jenny Patterson seats.

Those four beat out fellow candidates Mark Buchsieb, Rusty Scott, David Oyster and Chance Leoff. Brady was the top vote-getter among the eight candidates with 586 votes, or 18.1 percent of the vote.

The Pearl Property, the marshy piece of land just west of Telluride that has proven controversial in the past, came back before the voters this election in the form of two ballot measures — one that passed, and the other that failed.

Question 2D, which proposed to divide the property into two parcels — a large undeveloped open space parcel preserved by a conservation easement, and a small paved parcel where the RV lot is now located that could be used for a public benefit — passed with a vote of 61 percent. The Telluride Medical Center, which asserted that this represented the last and best opportunity to keep a medical facility within the town, now intends to pursue a plan to build a new medical center on the property.

Question 300, meanwhile, failed with 55 percent of voters casting no votes. The measure, a citizen-initiated ordinance brought by Telluride Grown, asked voters to allow agricultural use on 1.5 acres of the north side of the Pearl. Telluride Grown was proposing to build a food-growing system using greenhouses and a technology known as aquaponics to help shrink the region’s carbon footprint.

Uranium mill’s

construction

put on hold

The company behind the controversial plans to build a uranium mill in Paradox Valley announced in September that the plans are on hold indefinitely.

Energy Fuels CEO Stephen Antony said plans for the Piñon Ridge mill had been placed on hold due to the market price of uranium. At the time of the announcement, uranium had fallen from $50 per pound in June to less than $35, where it has remained for the rest of 2013.

By November, Energy Fuels announced that it would be closing many of its uranium mines across in Arizona and Utah. That month it also announced that it would temporarily suspend operations at its Blanding, Utah uranium mill proposal.   

The news was the latest in a string of setbacks for the Piñon Ridge mill proposal, which has proven polarizing in the region.

Energy Fuels was first issued a radioactive materials license for the mill in early 2011. But Telluride-based environmental group Sheep Mountain Alliance soon filed a lawsuit claiming the State of Colorado did not follow proper procedure when the license was issued, and local municipalities joined the suit.

In June of 2012, a Denver District Court ruling suspended the license and mandated that an administrative hearing take place.

Following that hearing, which took place over several days in Nucla in the fall of 2012, the license was reissued to Energy Fuels in the spring of 2013. The state gave the mill, located about seven miles east of Bedrock, the go-ahead to process up to 500 tons of uranium and vanadium per day.

Though the mill’s construction is on hold, the company has said it will keep the license current and valid.

Nugget changes hands, goes digital

Rumors began swirling late last winter about the fate of the Nugget Theatre when operators let their patrons know movie passes were only good through March.

In early April, longtime owners and operators Jim Bedford and Luci Reeve — who ran the business for 28 years — showed their last film after failing to reach a rent agreement with the Telluride Film Festival, which leased them the space. Bedford asked TFF to lower the rent by half for five months of the year, something TFF said it couldn’t do without risking its ability to pay rent to the building’s owners Katrine and Bill Formby. Bedford cited the looming $50,000 cost of digital upgrades as a reason for throwing in the towel.

After going dark for two weeks of off-season, the Nugget reopened in late April under the operation of TFF to the delight of local movie lovers. Things remained mostly as they had been, with the theater typically showing two screenings per night at a ticket price of $10.

In August, just before the 40th annual Telluride Film Festival, the historic theater underwent a digital conversion, marking the end of 35-millimeter film in Telluride. Without the conversion, the Nugget would have been forced to either close or transform into a revival house that only showed old films on 35-mm.

“The 35-mm era is sadly over and movies are all being released in digital format now,” said Telluride Film Festival Co-Director Julie Huntsinger. “It’s sort of sad because it has forced movie theaters to close all over the country. But we decided that wasn’t going to happen in Telluride.”

TV show pulls

plug on Telluride

2013 was the year Telluride almost became known for a Hallmark Channel television show about a frontier mining town.

Last spring, producers of “When Calls the Heart” began searching for a place to film their family-friendly show, which tells the story of a wealthy young woman who travels west to teach school and falls in love with a lawman. Local officials cheered the estimated $17 million that would be spent in San Miguel County and the local jobs the project would create. In June, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the TV show would be filming here.

But finding a suitable filming location proved difficult. Frontier Productions’ plan to film on the environmentally sensitive tailings pile east of town became unfeasible on their short timeline when Idarado required the company to get approval from all of the roughly 35 far-flung owners in the adjacent Idarado Legacy subdivision. Locations near the historic Matterhorn Mill and in Illium Valley did not work out either.

The project was supported by the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media, which offered producers $2.7 million in incentives to film in the state. But it wasn’t enough. After weeks of uncertainty, producers pulled out of Telluride, citing financial reasons. Producer Brian Bird said that when the number of first-season episodes grew from six to 13, the state’s 20 percent rebate was not enough to cover the project’s budget. They moved the show to Vancouver instead.

Mayor Stu Fraser, a former Hallmark employee, praised the efforts of local government agencies, home and business owners for their cooperation in trying to facilitate the project.

“While this project did not end up here, we have been shown to the state and members of the film industry to be willing to go to the extremes to support virtually any of the requests put forth,” Fraser said.

Telski hires new management team

In the lead-in to the 2013/14 ski season, Telluride Ski & Golf Company hired four new employees in top positions, including a new general manager.

Telski hired Greg Pack, a ski industry veteran who has worked at Keystone and Breckenridge resorts as well as Moonlight Basin in Montana, as its new president and GM.

Joining Pack were three other new faces at Telski. Brad Larsen, who most recently worked for Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine, is Telski’s vice president of sales and marketing. Robert Stenhammer, who brings extensive experience in resort hospitality, is the vice president of hospitality. And Scott Clements, the former director of ski patrol and risk management for Durango Mountain Resort, came on as Telski’s director of ski patrol and risk management.

“We brought in some people who are really great, hands-on, no-ego-type people who really roll up their sleeves,” said Telski’s owner Chuck Horning. “It’s been a really good process, and there’s a lot of excitement in the company right now.”

Telski, the region’s largest employer, has been in a state of transition since the summer of 2012, when former CEO Dave Riley — who helmed the company for five years — left his post. Following his departure, Horning came on to handle day-to-day operations, and the company decided not to immediately seek another CEO. Low snow conditions last winter presented challenges to the company, which also saw a rearranging of its executive staffing as well as several high-ranking employees leave their stations.

Pack said his first priority is building a high level of trust and confidence in Telski’s management team.

Anniversary

summer

Twenty, 40 or 100 years ago, it’s unlikely that anyone would have guessed the year 2013 would be particularly special in Telluride.

But this summer happened to coincide with several major milestones for the community: The 40th anniversary of the now world-renowned Film, Bluegrass and Chamber festivals, the 35th anniversary of Mountainfilm, Balloon Festival’s 30th and the 20th annual Blues & Brews Festival. And perhaps the most significant: the 100th anniversary of the Sheridan Opera House — the vaunted historic venue that has hosted countless festival events, weddings, plays and unforgettable nights of entertainment.

It was the summer of anniversaries in Telluride, with many of the events and organizations that have come to define the town celebrating cinema, indomitable spirit, free-wheeling bluegrass, intimate chamber concerts and craft beers in big ways.

The Sheridan Arts Foundation  celebrated the building’s long and storied history with a yearlong centennial celebration featuring special vaudeville shows, concerts and a Speakeasy Gala.

Bluegrass marked four decades of string music with a lineup of acts that have been important to the event’s history, as well as new bands that continue the adventurous genre-bending spirit that the festival was built on.

And the Telluride Film Festival went big for festival No. 40 — the festival added an extra day, built a new theater, anointed six guest directors instead of the usual one, created several free events and put together a program of movies that included what are expected to be several Oscar contenders.

 Passings

Telluride lost some well-loved community members in 2013.

On March 20, passionate environmentalist and alternative energy advocate Wes Perrin passed away at the VA Medical Center in Denver after succumbing to throat cancer. He was 63. Perrin was the former president of the San Miguel Power Association Board.

Peter Lauterbach, who had lived in Telluride since 2007, passed away on May 21 of complications from ALS.

On July 3 Stephen Treacy of Telluride died at his Creekside home of lung cancer. He was 63. Treacy was remembered for his warm welcomes and was frequently seen sitting near the New Sheridan.

Howard E. Greager of Norwood died at his home on July 10 of Pneumoconiosis (occupational inhalation lung disease). Greager, 89, was long-time Norwood local, author and historian who played a prominent role in the community.

On Oct. 10 Telluride local Michael Plester, an avid snowboarder and outdoorsman, was found dead in his River Club condo. He was 41. 

Longtime chiropractor Jon Michael Tucci passed away on Oct. 14 after battling cancer. He had owned Wellness Chriopractic of Telluride. He was 62.

Former Down Valley resident Sally Siegel, 61, died Oct. 24 in Florida. Siegel worked for Rainbow Preschool and the Telluride School District and loved her students with a passion.  She was known as outrageous, adventurous, entertaining and a prankster.

Longtime Telluride gondola operator Karl Walter Ebel, 53, passed away on Oct. 27. He was an EMT, served in the National Guard and was a volunteer at the Telluride Film Festival.

Placerville resident Jenn McKillop, 45, died Oct. 28 after a battle with cancer. In September, the community held a well-attended fundraiser, “Fight Like Jenn,” which friends say gave her the opportunity to say good-bye to many of her loved ones.

Janet Jacobs, a longtime resident of Mancos and Telluride, passed away on Nov. 6 after a long battle with cancer. She was 66. She was an avid skier and amazing grandmother who enjoyed traveling and reading. 

Telluride local Dixon “Frick” Burden passed away on Dec. 9 after an accident at his cabin near Pagosa Springs. He was 59. Burden was an avid skier, capable outdoorsman, search and rescue volunteer and dedicated Buddhist.

Well-known and loved former Telluride resident Irene Visintin died Dec. 12, less than a month away from her 101st birthday. Known as one half of “the sisters,” Visintin played a prominent role in Telluride’s mining days, working for local mine companies. She lived in the same house on North Spruce Street for nearly 80 years and graduated from Telluride High School in 1931.

Local painter Scott Harlow of Norwood died on the ski area on Dec. 12 after colliding with a tree. Telluride Ski Patrol attempted to resuscitate Harlow but efforts were unsuccessful.

On Dec. 22, long time Telluride local Jane Miller died at her Placerville home after fighting cancer. Miller is survived by her mother Cathryn, father John, sisters Carol, Casey, Susan and Emily, her brother Lance, her son Haden, daughter Anna and her husband Rich. She was 53. She was remembered as a devoted mother and inspiring presence.

And long-time local Patty McNall passed away last week after succumbing to injuries sustained in an accident.


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