Plower shortage |

Plower shortage

Sarah L. Stewart
Dominique TaylorA deer scrounges for food under a row of residential balconies in Eagle. This has been a particularly harsh winter for local deer and elk populations, due to the heavy snowfall. The Division of Wildlife has opted to feed local deer populations to prevent them from starving.

Vail – Record snowfall isn’t the only reason the white stuff is piling up more than usual this year.

The valley’s labor shortage has left about 10 percent of the town’s jobs unfilled throughout the ski season, forcing cutbacks in snowplowing. About 25 total positions have remained unfilled during the winter, the first year it’s remained at that level, said John Power, human-resources director for the town.

“Without question, it’s competition,” Power said. “There’s just more competition for the labor pool.”

Vail Mayor Dick Cleveland said the town needs to continue to look for ways to provide housing for its staff, especially “essential” workers such as police officers and mechanics, who are needed in emergencies.

“We sell one thing at the town of Vail, and it’s service,” he said. “If we don’t have people to plow the streets and drive buses and pick up trash, we’re not doing what we as a municipality are there to do.”

Vail – Memories of last summer’s snarled I-70 construction traffic still haunt some valley residents, but the Colorado Department of Transportation hopes better planning will avoid similar problems this year.

The $12.5 million road-improvement project will continue from Dowd Junction to East Vail starting in April. Crews will repave I-70, build a taller barrier in Dowd Junction, make shoulder and guardrail improvements and construct a new “chain up” area near East Vail.

The work will be done from 6:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. to avoid traffic problems during hours when more cars are on the road. The contractor will also have an incentive of $10,000 per day to get the project done early, something that wasn’t in place last year.

Tennessee Pass – Some say a new backcountry hut near Tennessee Pass would give more people an opportunity to enjoy the area’s wilderness; others say it would damage that very wilderness.

The public has until March 25 to comment on the hut proposed by the 10th Mountain Hut Association.

Backcountry guide Tom Weisen says the area is already becoming crowded with snowmobilers and dogsledders, and a new hut would bring hundreds more people.

“It’ll trash that place and cut through the streams,” he said. “Basically it’s on very beautiful, very pristine land that is very wild.”

The Forest Service’s environmental study shows a hut would “likely adversely affect” the lynx in the area.

Hut Association Executive Director Ben Dodge said that while those concerns are valid, the hut would not cause as much damage as some think.

The public may send comments to the U.S. Forest Service via e-mail at or mail Brian Lloyd, District Ranger, U.S. Forest Service, P.O. Box 190 Minturn, CO 81645.

Eagle County – The school district has decided to do something about one of its biggest obstacles to retaining teachers: affordable housing.

The school board decided last week to become a major investor in West End, a proposed development in Edwards that will include 72 affordable homes. The board approved securing at least seven homes in West End for about $35,000, but could end up investing more. The district would gain its investment back as it sells the homes to teachers or staff.

Board members delayed approval of a partnership with Stratton Flats, an affordable housing community in Gypsum, to further survey Eagle County teachers on their interest in living there.

Eagle County – The school district’s two newest elementary schools are already outgrowing their buildings.

Red Hill Elementary and Brush Creek Elementary are looking for portable classrooms to keep up with near-capacity enrollment.

The school district projects Red Hill’s numbers will swell to 450 next fall ” the building capacity. Brush Creek is projected to grow to around 420 students, with a building capacity of approximately 425.

“As long as we can keep manageable numbers in our classrooms we will be all right,” said Anthony Barela, principal at Red Hill. “School size is not as important as class size. If you have 25 kids in a classroom, this is manageable. At 35, it’s more difficult.”

Portable classrooms are a short-term fix, but the long-term could bring a property tax increase.

“We do foresee a time when we will have to go to the voters to build a new elementary school on the west end of the district,” said Phil Onofrio, chief financial officer for the school district.

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