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  • Dylan Anderson

Steamboat Springs will continue to allow gas-powered snowmelt in updated building codes

Updated energy building codes will limit the square footage of residential snowmelt systems and the location of commercial snowmelt, but not what is used to power them.

Steamboat Springs will not put a blanket ban on newly constructed gas-powered snowmelt systems in updated building codes after City Council decided Tuesday to limit the size of residential systems and the location of commercial systems, but not the energy source.


The decision goes against the recommendation to ban snowmelt systems powered by nonrenewable energy sources in the Routt County Climate Action Plan, which each municipality in the county including Steamboat Springs has adopted.


It also differs from the Routt County Commissioners and the county’s other municipalities, which have each indicated they favor the recommendation to ban snowmelt systems unless powered by 100% renewable sources. Still, the unincorporated county and smaller municipalities generally see far fewer developments including snowmelt than Steamboat.


“I think we’re ahead of ourselves here,” said Council member Joella West. “I would like to take this entire conversation and move it three years into the future and have a very serious conversation about it then.”


Council voted 4-3 to move forward with a limit of 450 square feet of snowmelt on residential properties and to limit snowmelt systems on commercial developments to areas around the base of Steamboat Resort and in downtown Steamboat. Outside of these areas, snowmelt wouldn’t be allowed for commercial uses, unless it met other exceptions like snowmelt providing disability access.


The vote split the same way council’s earlier discussion went on the issue, with Council members West, Robin Crossan, Heather Sloop and Michael Buccino voting for custom snowmelt language and Council members Gail Garey, Dakotah McGinlay and Ed Briones voting against.


“You’re forcing the issue of climate action to become bigger and worse, and that’s the legacy that you’re leaving behind for the next generation,” McGinlay said. “It’s going to be too late in three years, when we have the Gondola Transit Center fully snow-melted and that’s the legacy that we live with like Aspen and other places that are regretting those decisions.”


Buildings are the biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses in Routt County, according to a 2018 study that helped spur the creation of the Routt County Climate Action Plan. Adopting building codes that curb outdoor greenhouse gas emissions is one of the action items identified in the plan.


Steamboat Council has delt with snowmelt several times in recent months, first opting for a gas system for the new fire station before reversing that decision in favor of an all-electric system. Council also approved gas-powered snowmelt systems as part of a redesigned Ski Time Square, a decision that went against the adopted climate action plan.


The initial recommendation from the Routt County Building Department was to ban snowmelt systems, unless powered 100% by renewable energy. Routt County Building Official Todd Carr, who also serves as Steamboat’s building official, made adjustments to that recommendation at Council's request, which led to the various options presented Tuesday.


Carr has been working on the updated building codes for months and has held several meetings with local contractors and designers to get their feedback. Carr said roughly a third favored requiring systems to be renewably powered, a third favored a square footage limit on snowmelt and a third favored no restrictions at all.


The Yampa Valley Sustainability Council lobbied council to follow the adopted climate action plan recommendation and require snowmelt systems to be sourced sustainably. Garey noted that this isn’t as outlandish as once thought, as Yampa Valley Electric Association as a program allowing customers to receive 100% renewable electricity. Carr noted this hadn’t been contemplated as a way to fulfill the renewability requirements.


“This option allows snowmelt, encourages innovation and provides builders, developers and owners environmentally sustainable option,” said Paul Bony, the Energy and Transportation Director for the sustainability council. “Let the builder and developer community, who are really smart people, make decisions on green options, not let them have the easy path to pick the dirty path, which is business as usual. Business as usual always wins when you don’t force people to think.”


The argument failed to sway and council members though. Buccino said he didn’t feel 100% renewable was attainable, and therefore shouldn’t be the standard. Sloop agreed, saying she didn’t feel the Yampa Valley had the systems in place to service fully renewable systems. Carr responded to a question from Sloop to say there are local contractors to service these systems, though there are limitations.


“It’s wonderful that we’re all going to try to go electric but until and unless we have a community that can support it, both maintaining and installing, getting the parts, having it online, having it readily available, it’s not something that’s ready,” Sloop said.


Council passed the updated building codes on first reading on Tuesday. The codes need to be approved again before they are officially adopted. If approved on second reading, the new building codes would go into effect on Jan. 1.

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