ASPEN - Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick said Monday that local officials would meet with the City Council in January to discuss the future of hydroelectric power and other renewable-energy possibilities as part of the city's ongoing commitment to the environment.
His comments came amid sporadic discourse at the beginning of the council's regular meeting about the failure of the Nov. 6 advisory question on the controversial Castle Creek hydroelectric project. By 110 votes - 2,044 to 1,934 - city voters indicated last week that they don't want Aspen's government to finish the initiative for which nearly $7 million already has been spent and $3.5 million would be required to complete the job.
The city is not legally bound to bring the project to a halt. But to project opponents, the community expressed its desire at the polls that no more money be spent to finish the hydroelectric plant, which would divert water from Castle and Maroon creeks to cover about 8 percent of the city electric utility's demand. It also would eliminate the city's need to purchase power generated by coal, a nonrenewable resource, supporters say.
"I've been asked by a lot of people what is the future of the hydro project and when will it be discussed by City Council," Barwick said. "I'm recommending that we discuss it in January, and the types of things that I see being discussed in the meeting are, first of all, reiterating City Council's desire to reach 100 percent renewable power in our local utility (and), No. 2, we would reiterate and update the general alternatives that are available to reach that.
"And then we will estimate the costs for each of those alternatives and the effects upon the utility rates that we have and in general, take direction from the City Council. In the meantime, we are not spending any money on the hydro project. We haven't for three or four weeks now."
During the meeting's public comment period, project opponent Ward Hauenstein said the community's narrow rejection of the plant's completion provides "an outstanding opportunity to govern in a new way." Early this year, Hauenstein was one of the drivers of a petition that forced the city to bring the future of the Castle Creek hydro project to a public vote.
Hauenstein said he doesn't view the vote as a mandate against hydroelectricity or a defeat for the city. He suggested that the vote indicates a community desire that the city should work more closely with others in designing energy projects a greater majority can support.
"We are at a tipping point in this country," he said. "Government of opposites is not working. 'We versus them' does not work. Aspen has a chance to create a new model of cooperation and respect of diverse viewpoints with a common environmental process and economic goals."
Hauenstein mentioned how 18 months ago, he sought the city's approval for a different process involving hydropower, one that would take in more input from diverse groups.
"I was rebuffed, as it was (considered) a delaying tactic," he said.
Then, eight months ago, Hauenstein said he approached the city in a spirit of reconciliation.
"I was scolded and castigated because of my associations with parties of diverse viewpoints and my criticisms of the process the city has followed," he said.
He recommended that the city set up a panel of people for and against the plant to take "a fresh look" at the proposal.
Hauenstein, a member of the city's Election Commission, also lamented the loss of longtime friendships he enjoyed with city officials because of the contentious debate.
Later in the meeting, Mayor Mick Ireland, a staunch advocate of the proposed Castle Creek plant, expressed dismay over the misinformation that was spread about the initiative.
Mass mailers from an organization funded by unknown sources suggested that the two creeks would dry up if the city's plans reached fruition. Others showed photographs of dead fish, inferring that the plant would ruin the streams' ecosystems.
"There was a lot of lying going on," he said. "People paid a lot of money to lie to you. I resent that because it's in violation of our campaign code in this city."
Ireland said he appreciated the hard work of volunteers and officials who reached out to voters before the election to discuss the facts of the city's plans.
But he said he was disappointed by the level of vitriol by the project's opponents, and he addressed some of the comments Hauenstein made at the meeting's start.
"When you write letters to the editor, and you call this council 'despicable,' and when you call me 'hate-filled,' I will defend to the death your right to do so," Ireland said. "You can call us, under the United States Constitution, any name you want short of a death threat, and you have that constitutional right, and I would fight to uphold that.
"I will not of course, remain your friend. That's just the way it is. We are responsible for what we do and say. The fact that we have a right to say something or do something does not mean that others cannot consequence us for the exercise of that right."