Can ‘GreenPort’ power Vail Valley?
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – Vail Valley resident Vince Cook is used to thinking big. Now he’s leading a team trying to float the biggest idea in Eagle County since the Vail ski resort.
Cook is a Beaver Creek resident whose resume includes a career with IBM, a medal from NASA for managing development of the space shuttle and the 2002 Beaver Creek “Citizen of the Year” award. He has teamed up with other locals to try to launch “GreenPort.” The idea ties together rail and bus transit, workforce housing and ideas about “sustainable” communities into a package that runs from Dotsero to Minturn, and, perhaps, Red Cliff and Leadville.
The idea has already been floated to a handful of local town boards and metro districts, all of which have expressed support up to, but not including, the point at which checks have to be written. The Eagle County commissioners have seen a presentation, but remain wary of the project’s costs and the potential effects on the valley’s growth patterns.
In a long phone conversation, Cook said the idea’s genesis came in a call from friends Chupa Nelson and Ross Graves – Graves is now a member of the project team. Graves asked Cook if he’d be interested in talking about ideas to help boost the valley’s economy.
“We wanted an idea for workforce housing like Miller Ranch, with high quality and LEED certification,” Cook said. “Over the course of 10 years, we could create some quality workforce housing in the valley.”
Out of that first idea – spurred by a county study just a few years ago that indicated the county would need at least 3,000 new units of workforce housing over the next couple of decades – evolved a bigger, bolder notion that included money from new federal initiatives.
The friends started talking about the prospect of funding from federal agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Energy and federal and state departments of transportation.
Cook, who most recently has been working with a company involved in the “clean coal” business, said he now “paints everything green.” During the brainstorming sessions, he wondered if the villages for worker housing could be tied together along the valley’s rail line.
“My approach was [rail] would make it more complex, but more powerful,” Cook said.
So, with some startup cash in hand, Cook, Graves and Susan Lambert, a former vice president with CH2M Hill, a Front Range environmental engineering company, got to work and came up with “GreenPort.”
With a basic plan in hand, the team has this year been selling the idea to local governments. At this point, the team has sought, and received, resolutions of support from every board that’s heard the plan.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Eagle Town Board Member Roxie Deane said. “The problem is the money, but it looks like he’s working hard to find it.”
But there’s a lot of money to be found. The GreenPort PowerPoint presentation shows a project that could exceed $600 million, with money coming from local, state and federal sources as well as the private sector.
But money’s tight at the state and local levels, and private capital is hard to come by, too.
For Cook, though, finding a half-billion dollars is just part of the process.
“I think in terms of milestones,” Cook said. “If we don’t make them, then we don’t move forward.”
The latest milestone is finding about another $1 million in seed money from public and private sources. Without it, Cook said the GreenPort plan could be out of business in 90 days.
But Cook said he believes in the plan, and thinks he can get other people to believe, and write checks.
Cook’s belief extends to being able to hammer out a deal to lease the Union Pacific’s track through the valley. Local government types start scratching their heads whenever anyone brings up anything that needs cooperation from the railroad.
“The biggest problem I’ve seen over the years is the railroad,” Deane said. “It’s just hard dealing with them.”
But Cook, who has spent decades dealing with politicians and business leaders all over the world, thinks he might have an edge. Part of getting things done is knowing who to talk to, and, without naming names, Cook said he believes he has that information.
“I think I know what pew of the church I need to sit in for this,” he said.
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