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Cloud seeding study validates ski industry staple

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborates with the Vail Daily and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. For more, go to aspenjournalism.org.

An innovative new study conducted in Idaho and published on Monday seems to confirm what Vail and other Colorado ski resorts have believed for decades — that “cloud seeding can boost snowfall across a wide area if the atmospheric conditions are favorable.”

“This is a revelation. We can definitely say that cloud seeding enhances snowfall under the right conditions,” said Sarah Tessendorf, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder and co-author of a new paper on the research conducted by scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder and University of Wyoming, among others.

Cloud seeding uses ground-based generators to disperse dust-sized silver iodide particles into clouds so that ice crystals can form on those particles and fall to the ground in the form of snow. Scientists, water managers and ski industry executives say it’s precipitation that would otherwise stay in the clouds, so cloud seeding is an environmentally safe way to enhance snowfall.

But the efficiency of cloud seeding has so far been hard to prove. Tessendorf said previous cloud seeding studies were unable to achieve statistically significant results because the natural variability of the weather was too great and demanded a larger sample size than could be reasonably obtained, for financial reasons.

Cloud seeding uses ground-based generators to disperse dust-sized silver iodide particles into clouds so that ice crystals can form on those particles and fall to the ground in the form of snow.
Joshua Aikins photo

Inside the study

In winter 2017, the National Science Foundation, which sponsors NCAR, teamed up with the Idaho Power Company to conduct a field study called SNOWIE (Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime Clouds — the Idaho Experiment).

SNOWIE used supercomputing technology to develop a new computer model to simulate cloud seeding, as well as new measurement capabilities, such as a high-resolution cloud radar on a Wyoming research aircraft that can see previously invisible cloud features. Researchers also located mobile radars on mountain ridges north of Boise to see clouds not visible to stationary National Weather Service radars that are blocked by the mountains themselves.

Scenes from the SNOWIE project, which was undertaken in Idaho’s Payette Basin in winter 2017.
Joshua Aikins photo

The scientists then used airborne seeding instead of ground-based generators because the silver iodide dispersed downwind from the aircraft in a zig-zag pattern, which is a very unnatural pattern for precipitation to form.

That allowed the scientists “to unambiguously detect the impact of cloud seeding in these clouds using the mobile and airborne radars,” Tessendorf said. “This had never been done before. In the three cases we report on, there was negligible natural snow falling, so the zig-zag pattern was able to be detected very clearly and tracked to the ground to quantify the snow reaching the ground due to seeding.”

One of the examples cited in a press release accompanying the study was a cloud-seeding flight on Jan. 19, 2017, that generated snow for 67 minutes, dusting about 900 square miles with a tenth of a millimeter of snow beyond what was falling naturally.

“This was barely enough snow to cling to the researchers’ eyelashes,” the release reads, ‘but it would have stayed in the air if not for cloud seeding.”

“We tracked the seeding plume from the time we put it into the cloud until it generated snow that actually fell onto the ground,” said Katja Friedrich, a University of Colorado Boulder professor and lead author of the new study.

Finding the ideal storms

Dave Kanzer, deputy chief engineer for the Colorado River District, helps oversee a system of 25 ground-based cloud-seeding generators in the central Colorado region that includes Grand, Summit, Eagle and parts of Pitkin County. Nearby generators include one atop Arrowhead and another above Camp Hale.

Kanzer said storms from the north and northwest, which tend to be colder, are ideal for cloud seeding, with temperatures in the clouds no higher than 21 degrees Fahrenheit and no lower than 5 degrees Fahrenheit. If the clouds have the right temperature range and the right moisture levels but lack sufficient particles for ice crystals to form, that’s where cloud seeding comes in.

“We take advantage of the first two and we add the proper amount of particulate matter to enhance the snowfall and precipitation … and that accumulates in the snowpack somewhere in the range of between 5 and 15% on a per storm basis when those conditions are met,” Kanzer said. “And that helps to increase the water yield of the snow sheds in the range of 1 to, 4% of water on a seasonal basis.”

SNOWIE used supercomputing technology to develop a new computer model to simulate cloud seeding, as well as new measurement capabilities, such as a high-resolution cloud radar on a Wyoming research aircraft that can see previously invisible cloud features.
Joshua Aikins photo

A tool to maintain snowpack

The Colorado Department of Natural Resources regulates cloud seeding, permitting operations in nine different parts of the state. The operations in the central zone, at the headwaters of the Colorado River, are funded by a wide range of groups, including Front Range utilities and water districts that divert Western Slope water, including Denver Water and Northern Water.

The Colorado River District spends around a $150,000 a year contracting with Western Weather Group to run the program, which Kanzer said is about the same amount Vail Resorts spends on the program for its four Colorado ski areas – Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone.

Vail Resorts declined to comment for this story.

Kanzer presented on cloud seeding at a November Eagle River Watershed Council meeting in Avon, where a few of the 50 or so participants got heated in their questioning of the environmental safety of the process.

Kanzer said cloud seeding is safe, using inert silver iodide that cannot be detected in the environment after it’s released into clouds. He added the process could become increasingly critical to maintaining mountain snowpack as the climate changes.

“It’s one tool that we can use to mitigate or adapt to the changes that we have not only predicted but are starting to experience with shorter snow-covered seasons,” Kanzer said. “And so (cloud seeding) helps us extend that time or at least forestall the reduction.”

Japow: Skiing the epic resorts of Japan

RUSUTSU, HOKKAIDO, Japan — Some people have snow-riding bucket lists; I have a Mount Rushmore:

  • Ski the European Alps (checked that one off as a kid first learning to ski in Bavaria when my U.S. Air Force father was stationed in Germany, and then again covering the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics in Italy).
  • Ski the Chugach Mountains of Alaska via helicopter (40th birthday present from my wife, who upped my life insurance policy, sent me off with Chris Anthony and his crew at Points North and then seemed surprised when I came back).
  • Ski Japow (crossed that one off with a full-on family ski trip to Japan over the Christmas break … and that will be the focus of this article). But who’s my Lincoln? Or Washington if you go right to left? Maybe a family heli trip to somewhere less terrifying than Alaska? Or South America in our summertime to check out Las Leñas (Argentina) and/or Portillo (Chile)? Or New Zealand’s Southern Alps? That remains to be determined, and I’m wide open to suggestions.

For now, let’s talk Japow. You’ve seen it in all the ski films for years: legendary powder that blows in from Siberia, across the Sea of Japan and piles up in ridiculous amounts of 600 or more inches a season (that’s 50 feet, or 15 meters). And it’s not coastal snow ala Sierra Cement, because it’s so freaking cold coming in from Russia with love, and maybe a touch of radiation.

We based our entire trip on our Vail Resorts’ Epic Passes, which is kind of silly when you consider the most expensive one-day adult lift tickets are around 8,000 yen ($70). Suffice to say, by the time you’ve flown a family of five to Japan for Christmas and locked in your lodging, the skiing is the cheapest thing. Still, we wanted to see the ski areas Vail Resorts has partnered with.

That meant a quick, inter-island domestic flight after a couple of fun nights in Tokyo (on the main island of Honshu) up to Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido. Site of the ’72 Winter Games and famous for its beer and sake, Sapporo seems like a beautiful destination in and of itself, but we were quickly off by luxurious motor coach (a big bus) to Rusutsu ski resort.

Awesome pow and ’80s weirdness

Your Epic Pass gets you five consecutive days at Rusutsu (with no lodging requirement), and we left Tokyo’s Haneda airport mid-morning and arrived at the mind-blowing Rusutsu Resort Hotel & Convention in time (1.5-hour flight, plus 1.5-hour bus ride) for night skiing, just as a storm was rolling in from Siberia.

The next three days it just kept snowing, and Japanese skiers seemed to shy away from going off-piste, leaving the trees wide open. Low-angle spaces between the Japanese white birch trees and bamboo plants to the gaijin snow riders (a handful of Americans and Australians that time of year). You could return to your same line, run after run, and only cross your old tracks.

Kristin Kenney Williams skis the Japanese white birch trees of Rusutsu ski resort on Hokkaido, Japan.
David O. Williams | Special to the Daily

“The skiing at Rusutsu is second to none. Amazing areas, plenty of powder … good tree skiing and also nowhere near as crowded as (nearby) Niseko at the moment, so easy to get on lifts,” said Gareth Rawlins, managing director of The Red House restaurant and lodge. “But, yes, you hit the nail on the head: ’80s Japanese weirdness, bereft of style or even reasoning.”

That’s an apt description of the neighboring Rusutsu Resort Hotel & Convention, where we stayed and enjoyed amazing and affordable dining options ranging from traditional Japanese to Chinese and Italian, but were a bit stunned by a full-on summertime amusement park, a wave pool, Chuck E. Cheese-style animatronic singing bears, an indoor carousel, live caribou and more.

The summertime amusement park at the Rusutsu Resort Hotel & Convention.
David O. Williams | Special to the Daily

You pay a price for that kind of ambiance, so we were delighted to discover The Red House for Christmas dinner, serving shabu-shabu hotpots with Hokkaido vegetables and meats, including local Wagyu beef and Japanese whiskey. Think yofu izakaya (or foreign-style fusion).

“This area is now the talk of Hokkaido. I have a lot of friends in (Niseko, which is on Alterra’s Ikon Pass), and everyone talks about Rusutsu as the next ‘big spot,” added Rawlins, who claims nearby Niseko is very crowded. (We didn’t check it out).

“The Vail (partnership) has created almost all of that buzz (at Rusutsu)” added Rawlins, an Australian. “We would certainly love to see more Americans and Aussies, etcetera. The Asians are lovely people and good customers, but the Americans and Aussies just drink more!”

No kidding, an indoor carousel at Rusutsu Resort Hotel & Convention.
David O. Williams | Special to the Daily

Interestingly, Rusutsu for a time had a season-pass partnership with Steamboat Ski Area when its COO Rob Perlman, also a former Vail exec, bumped into the Japanese owner of Rusutsu (and owner in the ’90s of Steamboat itself) on a plane ride. There’s still a mid-mountain Rusutsu restaurant serving killer, cheap ramen bowls, called Steamboat — complete with the logo.

We were fortunate to have started our ski trip in Rusutsu, where it was early season and not all of the mountain was open, but we had plenty of great snow. They are having a very off year by their standards, and the settled base at the top is still only about where Vail is at 6-plus feet.

The Rusutsu amusement park sits in the foreground while Mount Yotei towers in the background.
David O. Williams | Special to the Daily

The view in Hakuba Valley

The second part of our Japow trip wound up not involving any skiing at all. We skied a half-day of Rusutsu powder, then flew out of Sapporo’s New Chitose airport into Tokyo Haneda, where our late-night travel options to Nagano were somewhat limited. Seems a mid-October typhoon took out several of the Shinkansen bullet trains and the very nice, comfortable and affordable Nagano Snow Shuttle buses don’t run that late, so we were relegated to a pricey van service.

We rolled into our awesome Zen Chalets Hakuba cabin in Happo One at 1 a.m. in a driving rainstorm. About 1.5 hours from Nagano — site of the 1998 Winter Games made famous by Hermann Maier’s spectacular downhill crash and Jonny Moseley’s gold medal mogul run — lies Hakuba Valley, where your Epic Pass is good for five days at no fewer than 10 different ski areas. Because it was raining, with mandatory downloads, we decided to play tourist.

The dramatic ski terrain above Happo One in the Hakuba Valley.
David O. Williams | Special to the Daily

I should qualify that statement by saying that it was clear to us that Rusutsu may have the snow but Hakuba clearly has the terrain (and usually a lot of snow at 12 meters a season). The mountains I saw once the rain (snow up high) rolled out reminded me of Alaska’s Chugach or British Columbia’s Coast Range. They rise sharply off the ocean with sheer and dramatic lines.

“Other than the lift-ticket prices, the sheer volume of snow is the only real difference between Vail and the Japanese resorts; well, that and the food, which is amazing here and relatively cheap,” said Michael Kotevski, an Australian who runs the Zen Chalets but got hooked on skiing at Vail in 2002, where he proposed to his wife Sarah in Blue Sky Basin.

“Niseko and Rusutsu have the most snow I have ever seen in my life, but they are lacking in vertical and pitch,” Kotevski added. “Hakuba, on the other hand, has some of the easiest access side-country alpine terrain that is comparable to heli operations, hence its popularity with free riders.”

Hakuba, unlike, Rusutsu, has a very developed ski-town infrastructure that makes it a major international destination for Australians whose home mountains may be Vail Resorts-owned Perisher, Falls Creek or Hotham (Australia’s only a 9-hour flight to Japan versus 12 hours from Colorado). But it’s increasingly a hotspot for Chinese, Malaysian and Korean snow riders.

I felt bad for everyone there this season — not only the Aussies whose homeland was on fire at the time but now the tourism industry in general with the coronavirus. Luckily, we were there before anyone had heard that word, although everyone wears masks, even in the ski resorts.

Monkeying around in Nagano

Instead of skiing Hakuba (we were worked from Rusutsu anyway), we did a day of recovery and then jumped a very cool Japan Ski Tours trip to Jigokudani Monkey Park and the 7th-century Zenkō-ji Buddhist temple in Nagano.

Rennick, Max and Nick Williams monkeying around in Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park near Nagano, Japan.
David O. Williams | Special to the Daily

The full-day bus tour includes a nice hike through the woods up to the hot springs famous for its population of snow monkeys and a fantastic traditional Japanese lunch in the lovely town of Obuse, where you can also check out museums, galleries, shops and sake brewery tasting rooms. (Nagano is also famous for its rice wine.)

The 7th-century Zenkō-ji Buddhist temple in Nagano.
David O. Williams | Special to the Daily

The tour concludes with a stroll through the beautiful Zenkō-ji Buddhist temple in downtown Nagano. Sure, it was a touristy day, but we really got a good feel for this beautiful area, which includes Vail’s sister city of Yamanouchi, although not on this particular tour.

And the beauty is, we left something to come back for: the clearly sick skiing of Hakuba Valley.

For more details and tips, see my three-part series of blogs on RealVail.com.

Vail fire officials are looking at how forests have changed after bark beetle infestations

As Colorado’s bark beetle infestations have faded, ideas have changed about the insects’ impacts on mountain ecology and the prospects for wildfires in beetle-afflicted areas.

A recent study of forest recovery by Robert Andrus, Sarah Hart and Thomas Veblen was recently published in the journal of the Ecological Society of America. Andrus and Veblen are professors in the Geography department at the University of Colorado Boulder. Hart is a professor in the department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

The study focused primarily on forest recovery in Colorado’s southern mountains. But in a telephone interview, Veblen said many of those findings are also relevant in Colorado’s central and northern mountains.

Veblen noted that in the early 2000s, a mountain pine beetle outbreak that began in the 1990s attracted a lot of attention from politicians and some land managers.

Veblen said the “initial, knee-jerk reaction” was that the abundance of dead trees would lead to an increase in the probability of the outbreak and severity of wildfires.

Over the ensuing years, Veblen said that fear “is not justified.”

The drive to “do something” about the outbreaks resulted in widespread logging to reduce the fire hazard. That wasn’t really necessary.

What happened?

Veblen said that fire hazard depends in large part on “fine fuels,” including grasses and needles dropping from dead and dying trees. But putting more of those fuels on the ground has resulted in a decline in the probability of forest-consuming “crown fires,” in which fire jumps from treetop to treetop.

But Veblen added, dead and dying trees can make access to fire sites “extremely hazardous,” particularly in stands of lodgepole pine, the dominant species in this area.

By the 1990s, those stands of lodgepole pine were roughly 100 years old, the result of widespread fires in the middle of the 19th century. Trees that old were ripe for a beetle infestation.

Over the past 15 years or so, land managers have altered their thinking to concentrate more on what’s called the wildland-urban interface — zones where human development comes in contact with wildlands.

Veblen said at this point, the idea is to concentrate efforts in those areas, as well as roads and trails into the forests.

Paul Cada is the Vail Fire Department’s wildland specialist. Vail has much of the valley’s wildland urban interface. In a phone interview, Cada agreed that fire behavior has changed due to beetle infestations.

Evolving management

What’s known about the post-beetle landscape has changed how land and forest managers view fires, and how to prepare for fires. The town is now in the final stages of drafting a community wildfire protection plan, and those changes will be incorporated.

“The goal is to prevent landscape-scale, high-severity events,” Cada said. That approach includes letting some fires do their work. The challenge, Cada said, is to identify ways to contain fires to a relatively small area.

In a standard fire season, Cada said most fires are confined to small areas ranging from a single tree to less than an acre. That same season might see a few slightly larger fires of up to 15 acres. Larger fires usually require some kind of “significant” weather, say a dry winter followed by a hot summer.

To keep those fires small, measures near the wildland urban interface include forest thinning and creating openings in the forest canopy.

Outside of the lodgepole forests, there are a number of local aspen stands that are getting on the “over mature” side, Cada said, adding that those stands have been growing too long without being thinned by a naturally-occurring fire. In those cases, some prescribed burning could be useful.

Those fires mean land managers are picking the time, place and weather conditions that have the most benefit and lowest risk, Cada said. That particularly applies to interface areas.

Over the past 15 years or so, as the wildland interface has expanded, thinking about fire management has shifted.

The thinking a few years ago was “control the vegetation and the problem goes away,” Cada said. But large fires such as the Camp Fire in California revealed a different reality — fire jumping from home to home, without much damage to surrounding vegetation.

The evolving management philosophy led town of Vail officials last year to pass revised building codes mandating more fire-resistant materials in new construction.

And ideas continue to shift about wildfire near populated areas.

“Almost monthly there’s some new, groundbreaking research about building components or ways communities are engaging (around the interface),” Cada said. That’s why it’s important for communities to stay as up to date as possible, he added.”

Back in the forest

While ideas about wildfire are changing, there’s good news from the affected forests.

Veblen said at the beginning of the beetle outbreaks, land managers worried about long-term recovery. Those concerns turned out to be largely unfounded.

“Leave the forest along and it’ll be fine,” Veblen said.

But that doesn’t mean the forest growing now will look like the one devastated by insects.

Veblen said land managers are seeing a good deal of species replacement in the natural new growth coming up through the dead trees.

Some lodgepole pine is being replaced by aspen and subalpine fir trees, he said. Spruce is popping up at higher elevations.

Current conditions provide land managers with some advice for the coming decades.

“Management should be aimed at efforts to improve recovery,” Veblen said. “You would want to create pre-outbreak conditions of small trees.”

But that regeneration may not be obvious at first glance.

“It may take 20 years or so for big lodgepole pines to fall over,” Veblen said. “But walk around in those forests, and recovery is well underway.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.

Sen. Michael Bennet touts CORE Act while celebrating Triple Deuce Day at Camp Hale with veterans

CAMP HALE — Mike Greenwood and his friends from the 10th Mountain Division have a special reason to celebrate Triple Deuce Day — Feb. 22.

From 2003 to 2007, Greenwood and his friends served in the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, known as the Triple Deuce.

This year on Feb. 22, Greenwood and seven friends decided to visit Camp Hale, where the 10th Mountain Division got its start and — knowing he was on recess — they invited Sen. Michael Bennet, who has been working to preserve Camp Hale as the nation’s first National Historic Landscape through a bill called the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy Act.

The group brought snowshoes, crampons and even a few splitboards bearing the 10th Mountain Division insignia for their tour of the historic training ground which prepared ski troopers for Alpine warfare during World War II.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate anchor for the CORE Act than Camp Hale,” Bennet said on Saturday. “It captures exactly what Colorado is. These guys came here, they trained here, they went and fought overseas, successfully, and then they came back and started our outdoor rec industry, started Vail.”

Retired 10th Mountain Division veteran Mike Greenwood accepts a flag Saturday during the event with Sen. Michael Bennet on Saturday at Camp Hale. Retired veterans came to tour the historic military site.

Where healing happens

While Greenwood and company trained at Fort Drum in New York, also along on Saturday’s trip was Nancy Kramer, whose father trained at Camp Hale in the 1940s. She is now the president of the 10th Mountain Division Foundation, and calls Camp Hale a healing place.

“This is where more healing needs to happen,” Kramer told the group on Saturday. “For vets, as well as our general public, frankly. We’ve got some public health crises coming down the pike; we’ve got to get people outdoors more.”

Greenwood said the idea to get everyone together started with men like William Kramer, Nancy’s father, in mind.

“It initially started as, let’s go out to Camp Hale, I want to show you the land, I want to show you what her father trained on … let’s go have fun,” Greenwood said. “We decided to contact (Sen. Bennet) and see if he wants to hang out with us and meet the guys who care about this land, and meet organizations who help veterans heal, or come home, or find nature.”

Veterans pose with Sen. Michael Bennet as they walk, ski and snowshoe around Camp Hale Saturday. Some of the vets went to Vail the day before to enjoy and learn more about what made Vail what it is today.

Greenwood is now working with Huts for Vets, a wilderness therapy program for war veterans who have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder or brain trauma.

Dick Merritt, a Vietnam war veteran and board member at Huts for Vets, said he is inspired by former Vail Mountain manager and 10th Mountain Division WWII veteran Willaim “Sarge” Brown in the work he does. Brown also served in the Korean War before helping Vail become what it is today.

“He’s my hero,” Merritt said.

While Merritt was inspired by Sarge Brown, Bennet says it’s people like Merritt who have inspired him in working to see the CORE Act passed.

“(Merritt) said to me … there’s a whole new generation of vets who are getting out into the wilderness, getting out into public lands as a way of re-acclimating to civilian life,” Bennet said. “Nobody is doing more for them than veterans who preceded them, and they know how important public land is.”

Vets fight to protect public lands

Bennet said he thinks the CORE Act has a chance of getting passed this year.

With the help of Congressman Joe Neguse, who represents Vail and part of Eagle County in the U.S. House of Representatives, the bill passed the House on Oct. 31.

In passing by a vote of 227-182, the CORE Act found bipartisan support in the House, and Bennet is hopeful that it will also see support across the aisle in the Senate.

Sen. Michael Bennet speaks with veterans and members of the media Saturday at Camp Hale. Bennet is trying to get the CORE Act passed, which would would designate 28,728 acres surrounding Camp Hale as a National Historic Landscape to honor the history of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Colorado.

“There are Republicans in this state who support the CORE Act,” said Bennet, who is a Democrat. “They know that — it’s 400,000 acres total, 70,000 of which is wilderness — all of that is protecting our watersheds. People want to protect our watersheds.”

The Camp Hale portion, which represents 28,728 acres, “doesn’t hurt, obviously, because people, I think, want to preserve the legacy of Camp Hale,” Bennet added, “but in addition to that, it’s a reminder of what an important part of our culture and our history our public lands are. And the vets that come from all over Colorado and all over the country to support this work are truly an inspiration.”

Merritt said he’s ready for a fight, if that’s what it takes to get the bill passed.

“We all fought in foreign countries for protecting our country, and now we’re coming back here and we’re fighting to protect the land,” Merritt said. “So we can heal in the wilderness and for generations to come.”

Taxpayer tab tops $28K in district attorney’s dismissed petty offense case against the sheriff

EAGLE — Eagle County taxpayers paid $28,481.73 just in defense attorney fees for District Attorney Bruce Brown’s petty offense case against the sheriff.

That total for Brown’s case against Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek does not include staff time, only attorney fees paid to David Kaplan with the firm of Haddon Morgan.

The charge was dismissed when a special prosecutor said he could not prove the case.

Brown, a Democrat, brought the petty offense charge against van Beek, Eagle County’s only elected Republican, over a disagreement about spending from an account of seized money. Van Beek and Brown, along with Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu, comprise the three-member committee that handles the money.

“To date, the county has paid $28,481.73 to the firm of Haddon Morgan (and van Beek’s attorney David Kaplan) to defend the sheriff,” Treu said.

$28K does not include time

The price tag does not include the staff time spent by Eagle County employees who were forced to travel to Summit County to testify as Brown presented the case to a grand jury. At one point Brown subpoenaed three Eagle County employees who spent a day traveling to and from Breckenridge and testifying before the grand jury, Treu said.

“My office does not bill or track hourly, but I would anticipate we spent an equal amount of time on the sheriff’s defense as Haddon Morgan,” Treu said. “Additionally, the county had three county employees travel to Summit County for Grand Jury testimony pursuant to subpoenas issued by Mr. Brown.”

Treu said employees of the county attorney’s office, sheriff’s office, and finance department also spent “numerous hours” producing documents that Brown requested.

Nor does that $28,481 price tag include staff time spent by the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s office, or staff time for the Ninth Judicial District Attorney’s office that was called in as special prosecutors to handle the case.

Brown declined to provide that information, saying there is no expense related to this investigation that he is aware of.

“At the DA’s office we don’t track time expended on matters. Staff are paid for the time they are on the job, not working on any particular task,” Brown said in an email, responding to a request for that information.

Brown referred further requests to the Ninth Judicial District, the special prosecutor assigned to the case. That judicial district said it doesn’t track hours spent on a case, either.

“The Office of the District Attorney for the 9th Judicial District does not regularly track time spent on individual cases whether it be by the attorney, support staff or anyone else, nor do we track expenses for our cases,” Ninth District deputy district attorney Steve Mallory wrote in an email. “Cases assigned to our office as a special prosecutor are no different.”

It’s a reciprocal arrangement, Mallory said.

The Ninth Judicial District, based in Glenwood Springs, serves as special prosecutor for Eagle, Moffat, and Mesa counties, Mallory said. In turn the Office of the District Attorney for the Fifth, 14th and 21st judicial districts are assigned as special prosecutors for some of the Ninth Judicial District’s cases.

“That arrangement is a collaborative effort and has not been reduced to specific billings for each case,” Mallory said.

Fund at the center of disagreement

The tempest began when then-Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan, also a Democrat, spoke with Brown in a parking lot after a meeting. Ryan since resigned from the Eagle County board of commissioners when Gov. Jared Polis appointed her as executive director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Ryan did not respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.

The dustup centered on a disagreement over spending from a fund of confiscated money — also called a forfeiture fund. Brown demanded that the accounts be frozen, and the $81,239.51 in them be deposited in bank accounts that the district attorney’s office controls.

Van Beek and Treu said no, prompting Brown’s grand jury case and the investigation by the special prosecutor.

Among van Beek’s expenditures from that fund were a new freezer for the jail, paying a ghostwriter to produce his columns published in the Vail Daily, crimestopper rewards, and support for Little League baseball teams and a local high school booster club.