Commissioner capers and the big box blahs
The Vail Daily would like to apologize in advance for the following year in review story. Parts of it are offensive, insensitive, and totally out of character with the refined, sophisticated nature of our usually upstanding publication.Any complaints about the flippant or sarcastic nature of the following news analysis should be directed to Andy Stone, the Colorado Mountain News Media ombudsman, at email@example.com, or 866-557-6397. EAGLE COUNTY – It was quite a year in Happy Valley.With the Kobe Bryant unpleasantness buried deep in 2004, the national media hordes pretty much stayed on the coasts, where they belong, but there were a few Big Stories in 2005. The world outside – specifically, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – hit home hard. And, as we do much of the time, Eagle County showed it’s not much different than the rest of the country.A small, vocal group of locals wrote letters and called Tipsline virtually every time the word “immigration” appeared in print. And we also got plenty of comments from people all around the country who read the paper online and felt compelled to offer opinions from afar.Vail, being Vail, mostly stayed out of the immigration issue, but folks there expended plenty of hot air debating a proposed, and ultimately doomed, conference center, as well as Peter Knobel’s on-then-off-then-on-again proposal for a new Crossroads mall-ish development thing.And down in Eagle, the county commissioners continued to provide entertainment, aggravation, and a few important decisions along the way.As always in our business, pure silliness and unspeakable tragedy were never far apart. Here’s a look at the highs and lows.Grass from gravelIn 10 years, most of us won’t remember a sometimes heated fight to save a gravel pit.In January, the Eagle County Commissioners threw $6 million toward a Vail Valley Foundation effort to raise $12 million to buy what is now mostly the B&B gravel pit at Edwards.When the Foundation announced in late summer that $12 million had been raised, it was official: the old gravel pit will forevermore be known as the Eagle River Preserve. A decade from now, few will remember the work that went into raising the money, or the scoffing that accompanied the county’s $6 million chunk of the total.Our guess is that in 2015, Vail Daily Managing Editor Emeritus Don Rogers will still be calling the thing a pig in a poke, even while fishermen fish and children frolic.Please contact him, not us.
The circle of payback (or, what goes around comes around)When former Commissioner Michael Gallagher decided not to run for re-election in 2004, he opened the door for a new guy, who turned out to be Peter Runyon of Edwards.Runyon’s election swung the majority of the board toward Arn Menconi, who, popular opinion held, had been bullied for four full years by Gallagher and Commissioner Tom Stone.Editorials during that time generally blasted Stone and Gallagher for being old meanies, and lauded Menconi for being so grown-up about the whole thing.Yeah, right.About two minutes after Runyon was sworn in, the payback began. In 2004, Menconi was bounced from the Lake Creek Village Board of Directors for not voting as the other commissioners wanted him to.In 2005 Menconi and Runyon tried, but failed, to bounce Stone from the board of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which he’d been on for years, for, you guessed it, not voting the wishes of the other two commissioners.Stone often appeared to be cut out of debates, discussions and decisions, and could often be seen seething over being the odd man out on issues from spending $6 million in county money on a gravel pit, to home rule, to the subdivision ban.Stone did get Runyon’s vote to build a new livestock barn and indoor arena at the Eagle County Fairgrounds, something Menconi has opposed.The new guySince Runyon is the man in the middle in the years-long feud between Stone and Menconi, he’s been fighting the perception he’s in his fellow Democrat’s pocket. “I am not Arn’s poodle,” Runyon said in a profile earlier this year.And Runyon did push some initiatives of his own. When seeking election, Runyon promised to ask voters to start the ball rolling toward “home rule,” a form of government reform that could include five county commissioners, which was a major selling point, if you get our drift. In November, voters narrowly passed the Runyon-backed proposal create a commission to study government reform and write a new charter.That work has to be done by July, and another election is needed to approve the charter the committee puts together. If voters say yes, Eagle County will be the first county in Colorado to adopt a new charter since Pitkin County did it in 1978. Runyon also promised to try to control growth. After just one public hearing, he and Menconi approved a ban on new subdivisions. The ban is supposed to last nine months, and it just might. We’ll see.The county also passed its brand-new master plan, and is in the process of finishing up a set of building regulations that would encourage more environmentally responsible building. We’ll see how many builders of Very Expensive Homes choose instead to just pay a buck per square foot instead of going down a very long list to accumulate enough “points” to pass muster with building officials.
Snuff ’em, SamCounty voters on Nov. 1 overwhelmingly passed a ballot issue in which the county commissioners asked the public for permission to pass a smoking ban. Menconi wants a county smoking ban passed as soon as possible, and Avon may pass a ban before the county does. But the county’s other towns may not be so quick to jump on the bandwagon. All we know is it’s good to have the good old, smoky Brush Creek Saloon in Eagle and Pastime in Gypsum, both of which remain smoke ’em if you got ’em watering holes of the first rank. They’ll probably stay that way for a while, since the town leaders of Eagle and Gypsum don’t sound especially inclined to jump on the no-smoking bandwagon. Take this box and…With apologies to the late Johnny Paycheck, that was the message the Eagle Town Board sent to a plan for a massive retail project just east of town. For a couple of years, the town board and developer Merv Lapin had gone around and around about the project, called “Red Mountain Ranch.” Plans included at least a couple of “big box” stores – the most recently mentioned one was Costco – and a few hundred homes.The plan split the town, with the most vocal critics being owners of existing businesses in town, who feared a big shopping center would eviscerate their own stores.In June, the town board first voted to approve the plan. Two weeks later, they said no. Lapin has pulled the plug on the project indefinitely.Out with the oldJack Ingstad went to work for Eagle County in about 1993, as the new public information person. He ended up as the county administrator.Ingstad resigned in April, with some saying the move was more of a push than a jump. Controversy ensued for a couple of weeks.While commissioners, friends of commissioners and friends of friends of commissioners blabbed, Ingstad kept his opinions to himself, one of the reasons he managed to keep his job as long as he did.In August, Ingstad landed the top job in Plumas County, Calif., in the mountains north of Lake Tahoe.Those of us who have known Ingstad over the years wish him the best, and know that Eagle County’s loss is most assuredly Plumas County’s gain.In with the newIn October, the commissioners hired Bruce Baumgartner as the new county administrator. Baumgartner is no stranger to the High Country. He’d held a similar job in Summit County before going to work for the city of Denver. There, he eventually rose to director of aviation at Denver International Airport.While his most recent work was in Denver, Baumgartner, 59, knows about government in the mountains. Besides his work in Summit County, he was the first-ever town manager for Crested Butte.Welcome back to the hills, Bruce.Comings and goingsAllow us a moment of self-indulgence to acknowlege the departure of a pair of long-time colleagues.In January, the one and only Randy Wyrick left Happy Valley to take the editor’s job at the Grand Junction Free Press, the newest member of the Colorado Mountain News Media family.Wyrick has been hitched to the Vail Daily off and on since the 1980s. Back when Jim Pavelich owned the paper, he and Wyrick had a George Steinbrenner/Billy Martin kind of relationship. Wyrick believes Pavelich is still trying to fire him for something.Somehow, though, Wyrick kept coming back. In recent years, he’d been the brains – if you can call it that – of Town Talk. He also did the work of an entire newsroom during more than a year of the Kobe Bryant case.We wish Randy well.Also earning fond parting wishes is Cliff Thompson.After about 20 years in the local news biz, Thompson was hired as the lead public relations guru and community glad-hander for the Ginn Corporation, the outfit that wants to build a bunch of homes and a private ski area on Battle Mountain. We see Cliff from time to time, so we still hear his cheery greeting, which can’t be printed in a family newspaper.Going, coming?Michael Cacioppo. The mere mention of the name evokes a strong response.To some, Cacioppo is a champion of the little guy, a defender of conservative values and the constitution, and a sworn enemy of liberals and tax-sucking bureaucrats. To others, he’s a flaming pain in the, well, you know.In the spring, Cacioppo announced he was leaving town, headed to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Locals who traveled there reported seeing Cacioppo all over the place, relaxed, smiling and happy.In the summer, Cacioppo returned, saying he’d never claimed he was leaving for good. Groans, and a few cheers, followed. But he also remained noncommital about staying in the valley. For a few months, he wrote a column for this fine publication. He gave that up a few weeks ago. He’s apparently still in the valley – at least he placed a Tipsline call recently – but wherever Cacioppo is, we’re sure he wishes even the greediest liberal teachers and bureaucrats a Merry Christmas, but not “happy holidays.”Math impairmentSpeaking of school district critics, Tipsline callers and Web commenters continue to grouse about the district’s Teacher Advancement Program, otherwise known as TAP.The critics had a chance to fix the system in the fall, when four of the Eagle County School Board’s seven members were up for re-election. Four of seven, by the way, is a majority, which is enough to change all kinds of things.So, when presented with a golden opportunity to shake things up, what the did the district’s mostly anonymous critics do?Nothing.Incumbents Andy Arnold and Scott Green ran unopposed, and Pat Donovan was the only candidate who volunteered to fill Louise Funk’s seat when she decided not to seek re-election. Exactly no one ran for Carri Tedstrom’s seat when she announced her retirement from the board.The election was cancelled, Green, Arnold and Donovan were sworn in, and the board hand-picked Edwards resident Jason Benderly for Tedstrom’s old seat.So here’s a quick formula: Four school board seats, plus zero critics stepping us candidates, equals a large net loss of credibility.Gas painsMany of us will remember 2005 as the End of the Era of Cheap Energy. Natural gas and electricity both shot up like model rockets, as did the price of gasoline.Corky’s in Eagle generally has about the lowest-priced gas in the valley. In January, a gallon of regular cost $1.92. As this is written the week before Christmas, that same gallon of gas is $2.50. In between, the price soared well above the $3 mark, thanks to tight supply, limited refining capacity and a couple of monstrous hurricanes. Which leads us to…
Crane festivalIf there’s one thing a resort town likes, it’s big-dollar development and redevelopment. On that score, Vail is at the epicenter of a wave of spendy projects ranging from the redevelopment of Lionshead and Vail Village to other proposed projects around the town. Heck, it’s enough to make us want to all run out and get real estate licenses – if there are any left.On a windshield?In some places, fear of bird flu borders on panic. Here, it’s more like occasional foreboding. Eagle County health officials decided to see how well prepared they were for a pandemic or something by holding an exercise involving giving hundreds of flu shots one Saturday morning.No cases of bird flu have been reported locally, and while there have been scattered reports of people doing to windshields what birds usually do, the suspicion is that beer, and not a virus, was involved.Vail’s self-proclaimed “billion dollar renewal” is in full swing, with several big projects in various stages of completion.Work started just recently on the Four Seasons, a new hotel-condo project where the old Chateau Hotel and Vail Amoco once stood. Across Vail Road to the east, the Vail Plaza project is taking shape.A bit to the east on Meadow Drive, One Willow Bridge Road celebrated its “topping out” this fall, which means the building that stands where the Sonnenalp Swiss House once stood has built up as far as its going to go… and the list goes on.Meanwhile, Vail Resorts Development Company finally finished digging its gigantic hole in Lionshead. In 2006, that hole will sprout the Arrabelle at Vail Square, a large condo/hotel/retail project widely expected to spark more rebuilding in the areaMost of the business people in Lionshead still say they’re eager for “Vail’s New Dawn” to take hold in their part of town in the form of the Arrabelle at Vail Square. Arrabelle, by the way, translates from the French “beautiful sales opportunity” – or something like that. In almost the same breath, though, those business owners will grouse about the short-term hit their businesses are taking, and begging for help from the resort company, the town, and any number of dieties. In a town where rent is almost measured by the square inch, it’s easy to feel their pain.Meanwhile, plans are also underway to create a new base area with a lift and 108 luxury condos just west of the Vail Marriott. Word has it they might even weatherproof a few dozen refrigerator boxes from the new units as affordable housing for locals. Sweet!Over Avon way, the big news is “The Confluence,” which is not a new Stephen King novel but, rather, a 19-acre resort and residential complex, complete with a Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa and a gondola to Beaver Creek.No word on how all this might affect the lynx.Some developers have looked at all this cool new Vail stuff with envy, wondering how they can get in on the act. Bobby Ginn, a high-end resort developer from Florida, concluded the only way to really make a difference was to start a whole new ski area.The area in question is Battle Mountain, just outside Minturn. Ginn’s proposal includes a private ski area and golf course and some 72 million homes for rich people. The plan also includes annexing the whole thing into Minturn, which currently has three residents, two restaurants and a donkey (for powering the pump on wash days).Ginn has plenty of hurdles ahead, not the least of which is the fact that the area around the proposed development is a federal Superfund site – a not-so-lovely historic remnant from the ol’ mining days. Lots of folks also think the highly scenic and flora-and-fauna-rich area should be left alone.As for us, all we know is that every time we write anything about Ginnturn, we get a long letter from our former colleague Cliff Thompson, who went from protecting the First Amendment at the Vail Daily to the Dark Side of public relations. To preempt this, we acknowledge here that 72 million is an exaggeration, and that Min’ern has a few more folks than that.But he’ll write one anyway.Finally, we should note that, due to a shortage of cement caused by Hurricane Katrina, all of the aforementioned development will be done with pine beetle-killed wood and a pulpy, cement-like mash made from copies of the newly finished and already-festering-on-the-shelves Eagle County Master Plan.On a windshield?In some places, fear of bird flu borders on panic. Here, it’s more like occasional foreboding. Eagle County health officials decided to see how well prepared they were for a pandemic or something by holding an exercise involving giving hundreds of flu shots one Saturday morning.No cases of bird flu have been reported locally, and while there have been scattered reports of people doing to windshields what birds usually do, the suspicion is that beer, and not a virus, was involved.
Thanks, Betty!It might have been the Vail social event of the year. In August, the valley rose up and honored Betty Ford with a party worthy of her contributions to Vail and the rest of the valley.There was wine, there was food, there were tributes and music. Best of all, Betty was able to come. Word has it that she reluctantly agreed to be the center of attention that hot Sunday afternoon, but once the party started, she seemed to have a fine time.Hot, hot hotSince the thermometer was stuck on “brrrr!” for the first couple of weeks in December, it may be hard to remember a summer run of days in the 90s in Vail. While Vailites simmered, no records were set. That happened back in May of 1986, the days before global warming. The once and still record? A sizzling 96 degrees.
Going to the dogsIt used to be that Moises Sanchez didn’t think anything about giving his daughter a couple of quarters a day for the trinket machines at Vail’s City Market. One day, little Shania Sanchez got her trinket, opened it up, then asked her father, “Dad, what’s that?”In this case, “that” turned out to be a tiny toy Chihuahua, lifting its leg and displaying not-to-scale – by which we mean “big” – doggie genitalia.Outrage ensued.Needless to say, little Shania’s trinket-machine feeding is now a bit more controlled. City Market manager Doug Miller asked the company that owns the vending machines to pull them out of the store.Vail, Colorado