Ritter to sign bug biomass, roadkill bills along I-70 in Vail

Gov. Bill Ritter Wednesday will be in Vail – sometimes derided as an I-70 truck stop with a ski area – to sign a so-called “Roadkill Bill” meant to improve safety and reduce wildlife carnage along Colorado roadways. The bill-signing ceremony will be held at noon in a pavilion right off the interstate that’s surrounded by red and dead beetle-killed pine trees.

So Ritter will also sign a bill sponsored by another mountain lawmaker that’s meant to provide tax incentives to companies removing and disposing of lodgepole pine trees killed in a massive and ongoing mountain pine bark beetle epidemic.

State Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, has become the bug queen, battling hard for state and federal dollars to mitigate the impact of the beetle epidemic, which has hit particularly hard in her Summit County home. Ritter’s choice of locales is no coincidence.

Tonight from 6:00 to 7:30, the U.S. Forest Service and town of Vail officials will hold an open house to tout a proposed biomass power plant that would use extremely high heat to gasify chipped-up beetle kill wood and produce 26 to 28 megawatts of heat and 6 to 8 megawatts of electricity.

The proposal made the final cut of three projects eligible for a U.S. Department of Energy grant and has wide-ranging support from the local ski company, Vail Resorts, to the local electrical cooperative, Holy Cross Energy, to state and federal lawmakers. But there are still a lot of tough questions swirling in the community, such as the noise, traffic and air-quality impacts.

Biomass power plants in the Northwest have been met with community and environmental resistance to using trees and wood products to produce power. In Vail, though, many view the project as a logical way to consume trees that will either fall and burn in a wildfire, biodegrade or have to be removed and disposed of in landfills at great expense.

Also being signed Wednesday is state Sen. Gail Schwartz’s “Roadkill Bill,” which she hopes will cut down on the number of dead deer, elk, bears and other critters killed along mountain roadways in her sprawling and scenic Senate District 5.

Ritter couldn’t have chosen a better spot. Wildlife officials call I-70 the “Berlin Wall” for animals looking to move from northern Colorado to the southern part of the state or vice versa. Several reintroduced Canada lynx have been struck and killed along I-70 near Vail Pass.

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