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Your Morning News - January 19th, 2015

Jan 19, 2015

First Aspen Council & Mayoral Candidates Announce

The first candidate for an open Aspen City Council seat has emerged.

Former Affordable Housing chief Tom McCabe has confirmed he plans to run for city council in May. McCabe retired as Director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority last October. McCabe says he would bring his expertise on how the city operates and likely focus on housing issues. He served one term on Aspen City Council in the early 2000s.

It is also likely Aspen's Mayoral race will have a challenger in the ballot. Former city councilman Torre told Aspen Public Radio this weekend that his intention is to run in the May election. He plans to formally announce his candidacy next month. It would be Torre's fifth attempt at the Mayor’s office.

Explore Booksellers Bought by Non-Profit Group

Aspen’s Explore Booksellers has a new owner. A corporation under the umbrella of the Public Research Interest Group purchased the historic building and book business for five million dollars. The sale closed Friday.

The bookstore opened as usual on Friday, but with new owners. Previous owners Sam and Cheryl Wyly listed the property in June. Since then, efforts have formed around preserving the business – Aspen’s only bookstore.

The Public Interest Research Group stepped in and the sale was finalized Friday. Real estate broker Bob Ritchie represented the buyers.

“Right now they plan to operate it exactly how it’s been operated. They’ve rehired all of the same employees.”

Karen Setterfield is the real estate agent who worked with the sellers.

“I call it a win-win-win. It’s good for the buyer, the seller, it’s good for the community, it’s good for the bookstore and the property and it’s good for Pyramid Bistro, the tenant in the property.”

Ritchie says the new owners plan to bring to Explore interesting speakers and talks, and deepen ties with the Aspen Institute.

Garfield County Docs Tackle Radon

This winter, Garfield County is partnering with doctors to get people to test their homes for radon. The naturally occurring gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer -- and nearly half of Garfield County homes have levels higher than what’s considered safe.

Doctor David Brooks is on call today-- so while it’s quiet now, he’s at the ready for any last minute appointments. During the year he sees hundreds of patients... and this winter he decided to combine many of those appointments with a county-wide effort to combat radon.

“We’ll talk about what radon is. It’s an odorless, tasteless gas that’s very high risk here in Colorado, and in fact there are about 21,000 cases of lung cancer associated with radon each year.”

Specifically that’s during what’s called child wellness visits. They’re covered by insurance and Medicaid for kids aged five, six, nine, and ten. And during those visits, Brooks and his staff give out free radon test kits.

“So we will explain to both the parent and the child how simple the kit is,” crinkle, “how you basically have to follow the directions on the back here which is writing your name, what time you put out the kit…”

Which means hanging a small sponge at about chest height for three days. And Brooks has got a special tactic.

“One of the things I often really try to do is to get the kid to want to do it. Because I very rarely get the parents to open it up, but I can very frequently get the kids to open it up and do the testing.”

“In Garfield County, much like the rest of the state, approximately forty percent of homes have tested above the EPA’s action limit for radon.”

Morgan Hill is an environmental health specialist with the county. Radon comes from radioactive rock underground and there’s a lot of that in Colorado. She’s tried several different ways over the years of raising awareness about the powerful gas. When Dr. Brooks approached her about handing out testing kits at the doctor’s office, she was excited.

“In my personal life I’ve had friends that have kids and then when they have kids they’re like, ‘Oh I need to test for radon!’ [Laughs]... Whereas when it’s just themselves they might not think of it as much.”

It’s especially important to test for in the winter, because it’s more likely to build up in homes with closed up doors and windows. Hill points out catching high radon is actually a unique opportunity.

“It’s a cancer risk that you can do something about. Cause so often cancer risks are difficult to control. You know we try to eat more fruits or vegetables, and maybe buy organic so we’re not eating as many pesticides. Even then it can be difficult.”

Test kits are free and take seventy two hours to gather radon samples, then can be put back in the mail at no cost. If they come back with high readings, Hill arranges a second test, just to make sure. In the end, homeowners can bring those levels down with some simple work with a crawlspace or basement. It costs anywhere from $1,200 to $3,000 to do that.

For now, the effort is to first to give out as many test kits as possible and convince people to use them. Again, Dr. David Brooks.

“Prevention is very hard in medicine because it takes a lot of effort for basically nothing to happen in the future. It is very hard to celebrate you didn’t get cancer in 30 years.”

His office has given out about fifty radon test kits since December 1st, and about twenty percent of families have returned them. The plan is to do some follow up phone calls and texts to help increase that number. The effort continues at least through the end of March.

Roan Plateau Deal Moves Forward

The Bureau of Land Management is making good on a legal settlement from last fall by cancelling nearly twenty oil and gas leases on top of the Roan Plateau.

The agency agreed in November to drop seventeen leases. That was announced by the Secretary Sally Jewell and involved leaseholders and conservation groups. The BLM also agreed to pay $47.6 million to Bill Barrett Corporation. Now the BLM is officially canceling the leases. Spokesman Steven Hall explains why it’s taken several months.

“The Bureau of Land Management has a very public and open decision making process. And that means until we’ve gathered’ public comment, until we’ve done environmental analysis of various aspects of the settlement agreement, it’s not finalized.”

The BLM is now working on an environmental impact statement to add to the existing one. That was also part of the settlement made last fall. There are two oil and gas leases left for the top of the Roan Plateau as well as twelve at the bottom.

Busy Holiday in the Upper Valley

The Upper Valley experienced a particularly busy holiday season the week after Christmas. Peak occupancy at hotels and lodges in Aspen and Snowmass hit 96% on New Year’s Eve.

Bill Tomcich with the resort booking company Stay Aspen Snowmass says that’s the highest level of combined occupancy he’s ever seen for the two resorts.

What’s most impressive, he says, is the resorts stayed busy. Hotels and lodges were more than 90% full for six consecutive nights from December 27th through January 1st.

“We’ve seen several years of consistent growth since the Great Recession in 2008. Those with distant memories will recall this is how it used to be. I remember how busy it was during the 97/98 ski season, which a lot of people consider the ultimate high water mark.”

Looking ahead, lodging is filling up in Aspen for the X Games while there’s still availability in Snowmass. The next busy, prolonged stretch will be in mid-February when many Brazilians visit for Carnival.