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Juggling economy and environment

Matt Zalaznick

Considering the environment and the economy in the valley are inextricably linked, local decision-makers are increasingly faced with the problem of keeping both healthy.

Those who do some of the most serious thinking about balancing the natural and commercial worlds have therefore enrolled themselves in a series of locally-sponsored courses to review and enhance the government policies that will steer future development and conservation.

“The big-picture question is there are so many people in this community asking, “Where are we going?'” says Clark Anderson, an organizer and participant in Shaping the Future of the Eagle Valley courses.

The courses, supported by grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants, as well as Colorado Mountain College, are already underway. They now are entering an advanced-phase in which participants expect to hammer out a set of guidelines to add to the policies Eagle County uses to shape local growth and development. The county is in the process of updating those policies.

“Whether or not you’re for or against The Home Depot and Wal-Mart, there’s certainly a lot of change,” says Anderson, who lives in Minturn. “The change over the last few years has been so significant; everybody feels like we’re at the precipice of something.”

Green building

Adam Palmer, director the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability – an energy-conservation group – says the county’s policies already are environmentally-oriented.

“We’re checking to see how effective those are and if there are any more pieces the group would like to see put in place,” Palmer says.

The goal of the Shaping the Future course is to come up with a policy document that will be submitted to Eagle County planners overseeing revisions of the county’s master plan, an extensive set of guidelines the county follows when managing everything from private construction projects to its bus system to where affordable housing is built to water use. The class will meet both in large groups and in smaller “track groups.” Palmer, who is leading the environmental track, says energy conservation is one area in which the master plan could likely be strengthened.

“The no-brainer is to see if there are feasible ways we could improve energy codes and promote green building within the county,” Palmer says.

Green-building is a policy in which buildings are designed to use less energy. For instance, green buildings don’t need to be heated as much to keep the people inside warm; natural lights also is used to reduce the need for electric lights in green buildings.

“Generally, the quickest payback – and the most feasible policy – is energy efficiency,” Palmer says.

Palmer says his group will examine how development, particularly new roads, have fragmented the traditional migration routes of deer, elk and other wildlife. The group also will review the White River Forest Plan, the document that sets out policies for managing the forest that surrounds Eagle County and encompasses both Vail and Beaver Creek mountains.

Economic essentials

Don Cohen, executive director of the Vail Valley Economic Council, will lead the course’s economic track. It will focus on driving business – but with the environment in mind.

“When you look at the community and look at all the aspects of what makes it a community – from the environmental and the social aspects – they really are so inter-mingled with the local economy,” Cohen says.

“As much as people want to protect the environment and keep the quality of life at a high level, you’ve got to have the money to do it,” Cohen says.

The heart of the valley’s economy is, of course, tourism and, Cohen says, his group will explore how to expand that sector of the economy. But, Cohen says, if the valley could diversity the economy, it would be less dependent on tourism.

While manufacturing is an industry ill-suited for the valley, financial services, think tanks or software development would be a good fit, Cohen says.

“A good way to think of the economy is like a fish tank – you constantly need to refill and refresh the water to keep the ecosystem viable,” Cohen says. “It’s an economic ecosystem.”

Carrying capacity

How much room there is on the roads, on the slopes and in the neighborhoods – or carrying capacity – is one problem the valley will struggle with in the coming years, Cohen says.

But a good sign is that folks in the valley have traditionally considered the natural and social environment when planning for the economy, he says.

“What’s great about this community” Cohen says, “is we really think about the integration of all these things.”

One of the ultimate goals of the course is to write a simpler, more-accessible vision statement for future development of the valley, Anderson says.

“We want to make sure that in the process of all that’s happening we do some things as well as we’ve done them in the past and some things better,” Anderson says.

“Development is not necessarily bad, but growth can be a problem,” he says. “Before the valley grows anymore, we have to consider how we want it to develop.”

AT A GLANCE

For more information about Shaping the Future of the Eagle Valley, call Clark Anderson at 376-5360

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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