What's a bedbug?
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, bedbugs are nocturnal "nest parasites" and "small, wingless insects that feed solely upon the blood of warm-blooded animals."
When hatched, they are about the size of a poppy seed; grown bedbugs are about a quarter of an inch long. According to the Harvard report, bedbugs painlessly drink small amounts of human and animal blood, preferably while hosts are asleep. They can produce skin lesions similar to mosquito or flea bites and are not known to transmit any infectious diseases.
When not feeding, bedbugs hide in various cracks and crevices - their favorite hiding spots are bed frames, mattresses and box springs. Bedbugs can spread to new dwellings by hiding in moved luggage, furniture, clothing, pillows, boxes and other objects.
- Brandon Gee
On the 'Net
For more information about bedbugs, including their biology, health significance and guidance on managing an infestation, visit the Harvard School of Public Health Web site.
The city's purchase of the Iron Horse Inn initially was praised as an astute move to lead by example and secure affordable housing for city employees and other local workers.
City officials now privately joke that the best solution might be to empty the building and burn it down.
A reoccurring bedbug problem is among the headaches the city faces at the former motel in the 300 block of South Lincoln Avenue. Mountain Resorts Realty, a division of Resort Group, has told the city it wants out of its contract to manage the facility and began moving its employees out this week.
"The bed bug infestation at the Iron Horse Inn is an extremely difficult and unacceptable situation for the Resort Group companies," Steamboat attorney Ward Van Scoyk, representing Mountain Resorts Realty, wrote in a letter to City Attorney Tony Lettunich. "Due to the significant possibility of substantial damages and irreparable injury, Mountain Resorts Realty has determined that it is necessary to terminate its relationship with the Iron Horse."
The Iron Horse Inn was mostly deserted Thursday except for a few city employees and workers removing snow and ice from pathways - and a sign from Resort Group telling its employees to take their towels with them when they leave.
Interim City Manager Wendy DuBord said the city opposes Mountain Resorts Realty's request to terminate its contract with the city, but hopes to reach an amicable solution with the company. DuBord referred all other comments to Lettunich.
DuBord also confirmed that bedbugs were found at the Iron Horse Inn about a year ago when it still was under city management. DuBord said bedbugs are a common problem in residences and lodging establishments, adding that the Iron Horse Inn might have been particularly vulnerable because it houses a temporary and transient workforce.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, bedbugs "became relatively scarce during the latter part of the 20th century" but are experiencing resurgence and "are increasingly becoming a problem within residences of all kinds including homes, apartments, hotels, cruise ships, dormitories and shelters."
There have been subsequent bedbug reports since management of the Iron Horse Inn transferred to MR Realty last year. City Facilities Manager Bob Robichaud said the last report he received was in December. If the problem has returned, Robichaud said, he hasn't been made aware of it, but Van Scoyk's letter indicates that the problem has persisted.
Prior to this week's move, Resort Group housed a collection of employees including front desk managers, maintenance staff and housekeepers in 36 rooms at the Iron Horse Inn. The employees came from Michigan for the winter through a partnership with the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, according to Van Scoyk's letter.
"Cross-contamination into managed units, or even the perception of the possibility of cross-contamination in the minds of owners and guests, would have a disastrous effect on Resort Group and its business," Van Scoyk wrote. "Resort Group has never been associated with a bed bug problem and has not experienced bed bugs in any of its nightly rentals. It cannot take the risk that this will happen."
'Nothing but problems'
Resort Group Vice President Mark Walker could say only that the company is not currently in breach of its contract and MR Realty continues to manage the Iron Horse Inn. Like DuBord, he also expressed his wish to reach some sort of compromise with the city.
"It is my opinion that the bed bug problem is sufficient grounds for Mountain Resorts Realty to unilaterally terminate its agreement with the City regarding the Iron Horse Inn," Van Scoyk wrote in his letter to Lettunich. "However, it is my client's preference to reach a mutual agreement with the City regarding termination and transition of the property to another manager."
Noah Rector, a city bus driver who lives at the Iron Horse Inn, said one of his friends, who since has left Steamboat, had scars on his arms from being bitten by the tiny nocturnal pests.
"It's kind of concerning that they're moving these people out," Rector said Thursday. "This place - we've had nothing but problems since we moved in here."
Rector said leaks, a hole in the wall, toilet problems and uncovered electrical outlets are among the issues he has dealt with since moving into the Iron Horse Inn. While he had nothing but praise for the on-site manager, Rector said it is otherwise hard to bring problems to anybody's attention because of the manager isn't always available and the Iron Horse no longer maintains a staffed front desk.
"They need to tear it all down and do something new with it," he said. "It's pretty bad."
The quarters aren't exactly his idea of affordable housing, either. Rector and a roommate pay $900 a month for a two-bed unit with a mini-fridge, stove and microwave. Rector said Iron Horse residents also are taxed on the subsidy they receive from the city, and would lose an end-of-season bus driver bonus if they moved out.
Interim Finance Director Bob Litzau said the unit's rent is valued at $1,200 and therefore the resident whose name is on the lease is taxed on a $300 subsidy to comply with federal tax law.
"If they avail themselves of the reduced rent at the Iron Horse, then they only get half of their year-end bonus," Litzau said. "If they move out in the middle, they still only get half."
"I don't know what we're going to do with it," City Council President Loui Antonucci said Thursday of the Iron Horse Inn.
A previous City Council, which included Antonucci, purchased the Iron Horse for about $4 million in November 2007, in an effort to ensure the availability of affordable housing for city employees at a time when property values and housing costs were soaring. The city used certificates of participation to finance the purchase, an additional $1 million originally planned for renovations, and issuance costs of $235,000.
The planned purchase was a hot-button campaign issue in the 2007 City Council election that saw all incumbents defeated and five new members join the council. After the election, the new council hoped to divest itself of the property but discovered that it would not be wise. Because of what is essentially a prepayment penalty, the $6.5 million needed to immediately pay off the certificates was significantly higher than the $5.3 million borrowed for the purchase.
Instead, City Council decided to save the $1 million originally intended for renovations, contracted with Resort Group to manage the property and established a committee to explore redevelopment opportunities. Antonucci said redevelopment remains the long-term goal.
Antonucci said he regrets the purchase today. He added that the city got a fair price at the time, and said since the city was renting houses for seasonal workers, council members thought it made sense to just buy something. The Iron Horse Inn, an underutilized piece of property on the Yampa River and Yampa River Core Trail, was attractive.
This year's debt service on the Iron Horse Inn is $339,103, according to the city's 2009 adopted budget. Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski, one of the sharpest critics of the Iron Horse Inn purchase during the 2007 campaign, said the city needs to work quickly to identify alternatives in anticipation of losing the property's most significant source of revenue. Under the city's contract with Resort Group, the company leases 37 of the inn's 52 rooms. The remaining rooms are reserved for city employees.
To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org