Heating streets may melt Avon’s green streak | VailDaily.com

Heating streets may melt Avon’s green streak

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyPedestrians walk across a heated street Thursday in Vail Village. Avon is debating whether to install snow-melting equipment when its downtown area in renovated.

AVON, Colorado ” With wind power charging through its street lights, a hybrid bus on the roads and its carbon footprint under the microscope, Avon is quickly growing a hefty green resume.

So it was interesting to hear the town council debate the merits and pitfalls of heated streets to melt snow ” a big no-no in environmental circles, but a common and helpful amenity in ski villages.

As Avon heads into its long planned downtown renewal, leaders are debating how much ” if any ” snowmelt they want to install in future streets and sidewalks.

Melting snow keeps streets mostly snow and ice free, but it also dumps tons of earth-warming carbon dioxide in the air.

It’s a tough decision for a town that is both hoping to create a charming, walker-friendly downtown while also become a leader in environmental stewardship.

Snowmelt is about one of the “nastiest” things you could do for the environment, said Avon resident Heidi Hinderman.

“Even when you have snowmelt, people are going to slip somewhere,” Hinderman said. “So I say don’t even bother. It really stinks for the environment.”

Installing snowmelt does seem to go against much of the positive work being done in Avon to help the environment, Councilman Richard Carroll said at Tuesday’s work session.

The town recently spent thousands of dollars to analyze its environmental impact and develop a plan to reduce its carbon emissions. Installing snowmelt would certainly inflate the town’s carbon footprint.

In 2006, Avon released 3,729 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Depending on how much snowmelt is installed, and the type of heating system used, the town would increase its carbon footprint anywhere from 769 tons of carbon a year or nearly 3,000 tons of carbon a year, which would nearly double the town’s carbon footprint.

Traditional snow removal with shovels and plows would put just 104 more tons of carbon into the air a year, according to town planners.

There’s also a matter of hypocrisy and setting a good example. Commercial buildings in downtown Avon’s redevelopment must be certified by Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design, known as LEED. LEED certification requires builders to meet tough energy efficiency and environmental standards.

Councilman Brian Sipes said if the new downtown Avon has charm, people will come, snowmelt or not. Snow on the ground is to be expected in a ski town, he said.

“There’s a whole bunch of people who don’t mind walking around in snow,” Sipes said.

Saying “no” to snowmelt though isn’t that simple, especially since Avon leaders have made it very clear that the more urban downtown it plans to build will be designed is for walkers.

Sidewalks on the future “Main Street” will be wide, shops and restaurants will be closely packed together, and apartments will be built on the second and third stories. Like in most urban towns, residents living downtown would walk to the post office or dry cleaner ” not take a car.

Downtown is a close walk away from the Avon Station, the town’s new transit hub, Nottingham Park and the new Gondola at the Westin resort that takes skiers up to Beaver Creek. If you don’t take a bus to downtown Avon, you could leave your car in the parking garage the town plans to build and walk around for the day.

Main Street will be one-way, and easily be closed off and turned into a pedestrian mall for special events.

From that perspective ” installing some amount of snowmelt makes sense to keep pedestrian-filled streets safer, council members said.

Town staff recommended that the town install a minimal amount of snowmelt, which would cover the sidewalks along Main Street, cross walks, and Lettuce Shed Lane ” a planned pedestrian path that connects Avon Station to Main Street.

Using that much snowmelt, heated by gas fired boilers, would put about 769 tons of carbon dioxide in the air, cost $1.85 million to build at $513,500 a year to run.

Snowmelt might be handy, but it’s also very expensive.

The council isn’t saying yes or no to snowmelt yet. For now, the council wants town staff to plan and design the downtown area so it would be possible to install snowmelt in the future.

Councilwoman Tamra Nottingham Underwood said she would have a hard time supporting snowmelt, especially considering its environmental impact

Sipes also said he would have a hard time supporting snow melt, but said he’d be more open to it if the town were able to further explore the use of renewable fuel, such as biomass made from beetle-killed pine trees, to keep the snowmelt running.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

Support Local Journalism