Editor’s note: Five candidates are running for three open seats on the Basalt Town Council in the April 1 election. Coverage by The Aspen Times March 17-21 will focus on major issues in the town.
Today’s question: How do you feel about the way the town government handled the relocation of residents from the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park? Specifically, should more or less have been done than offer financial packages that ranged from $15,000 to $25,000 for relocation assistance?
Richard Duddy: It is difficult to say whether the town government “handled” the relocation of the residents to my satisfaction because I was not a party to the discussions. I do have a personal history on this issue. Fifteen years ago, I loaned money to a family to buy one of the mobile homes. The loan was repaid quickly, and I have seen the children of this family shine in the Basalt schools. I have been to birthday and graduation parties at the Pan and Fork. Several years ago when the relocation was announced, I was asked what the family should do. I said start looking for another home. After all, the terms of the lease were not unknown. I’m glad the town was able to assist, but the promise of replacement housing, if given, was impractical given the time frame for action.
Bernie Grauer: I feel compassion for the mainly Latino residents of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park who had to abandon their homes, which were at risk of flooding. A 66 percent majority of Basalt residents voted in 2013 for a $5 million bond to finance an accelerated river and land restoration project and a public park on the Pan and Fork site. The council had to create a cash relocation package after its nonprofit partner was unable to secure replacement housing in time. The $1 million relocation financing package is extremely generous for a town with a general operating budget of about $3.5 million a year. No trailer park in the valley has received such a fair package. I think that the council got it right.
Mark Kittle: Some tough decisions had to be made at some point, and that time had finally come. The town has been discussing the relocation and improvements at Pan and Fork for the past 15 years or so. No plan is perfect, but I believe that the details outlined by the town were fair and equitable and, as a town, went beyond what was morally required. The town staff worked with each family on an individual basis trying to formulate and implement a plan for relocation that would work for both parties. This typically doesn’t occur with the amount of detail and compassion that the town has put forth. As an added bonus, an anonymous beneficiary made funds available to the remaining families at a low interest rate to help facilitate their relocation. Fortunately, this has helped to ease the tension in a trying time for not only the residents but the town as a whole. Although a very controversial topic with high emotions, I feel that the town was fair and ethical in its actions in trying to alleviate a potentially disastrous condition, and, in result, making the area into a safe and beautiful community amenity.
Jeff Orsulak: The Pan and Fork was a vibrant neighborhood, and losing any neighborhood can be a blow to a town. A poor planning decision to locate residents in harms way made over 40 years ago (before I and probably many of its inhabitants were born), is having a deep affect on our community today. While losing housing is unfortunate, losing people is what hurts a community the most. These residents were our neighbors — our neighbors who shopped in stores and ate in restaurants, and whose kids played on our playgrounds and participated in our schools.
The loss of the Pan and Fork was a failure in planning made a long time ago. But out of any failure comes opportunity. Opportunity to start anew, opportunity to plan for the future, opportunity to build a stronger more successful Basalt. So that when we look at Basalt, and us, 40 years from now we can be proud of the planning decisions we make today.
Gary Tennenbaum: Basalt has done a good job working with the current residents to provide an appropriate amount of assistance. It is not an easy task, but I support the town’s recent actions since it included a lot more than just financial assistance.