Aspen council won’t pull plug on dams
April 27, 2017
An Aspen city councilman said this week he erred by voting in favor of potentially damming Castle and Maroon creeks, but he failed to persuade his fellow elected officials to rescind their unanimous decision from October.
Bert Myrin conceded that it was "my mistake" when he voted in favor of the city's pursuit of preserving its water rights on the two pristine streams.
Myrin's proposal, which was not on the council's Monday meeting agenda and had not been formally noticed to the public, came eight days before the May 2 municipal elections.
Council members Art Daily and Ann Mullins are up for re-election and face four challengers. Mayor Steve Skadron is seeking re-election to his third and final two-year term. Lee Mulcahy is the challenger.
The dam issue has been one of the hot-button issues of the election season.
Candidates Ward Hauenstein and Torre, both of whom have Myrin's public support, have been vocal in their opposition against the city preserving its water rights, as has Mulcahy. Council candidate Skippy Mesirow has expressed a desire to preserve the water rights but not dam the streams. And at a candidate forum last week, candidate Sue Tatem vowed to lay down in front of a bulldozer if and when construction on the reservoirs ever begins.
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Others, however, have argued that candidates are capitalizing on an issue that has been overblown because the city has regularly extended its water rights for the two streams since 1971.
Those conditional water rights allow the potential for building a 9,062-acre-foot reservoir in Castle Creek Valley and 4,567-square-foot reservoir in Maroon Creek Valley.
The issue is now pending before the District 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs, where several parties, including Pitkin County, have filed opposition to the city's extension.
Elected officials and city officials also have maintained they must renew the water rights in preparation for 50 years from now when Aspen's population could be nearly triple what it is today, as well as climate change's impact on the water supply. Maroon and Castle creeks supply the city's drinking water.
At Monday's meeting, Skadron accused Myrin of rolling out the proposal as a political tactic with the mail-ballot election looming.
"I mean no disrespect," Skadron said, "but this has become a political issue in the campaign and I think proposing it now, one week out from an election, considering you have two council members you (are) expressively not supporting, I think it's a blatant issue to politicize an important and complicated issue, and I will not be supporting that direction at all."
Myrin said the timing of his proposal was not because of politics. He said it was fueled rather by an exchange he had with Carbondale resident Allyn Harvey, who sits on the board of the nonprofit Wildnerness Workshop. The Carbondale-based environmental lobbyist group filed a statement of opposition to the city's preliminary intent to build reservoirs in December.
Contacted Wednesday, Harvey said he and Myrin communicated about the dams Monday on an Aspen-oriented Facebook page.
"There was a Facebook conversation and he was kind of running away from his vote last October, and I just pointed that out to him and to take responsibility for his vote," Harvey said. "It was really just calling Bert out for putting the dam on other council members when he voted for the dams as well."
Another proposal by Myrin — to have council direct its staff to prepare a resolution that would dismiss the need for dams in the wilderness of the two valleys as well as looking into ways to investigate what he called "nondevelopment solutions to preserve the creeks" — also didn't gain traction with his counterparts. Myrin said the city staff's figures about preserving the water are "aggressive" and "so far out of reality" and should be rethought.
While Councilman Adam Frisch said Myrin made a "fair point" about discussing the council's decision, he said future talks should not be had until after the elections on June 13 at the earliest, which would come after the possible scenario of a run-off contest for a council seat.
Daily and Mullins said they would not respond to Myrin's suggestion in haste.
"I think this should be a formal agenda item at a later date," Daily said. "I don't think it should be a surprise to the public or to us, and if it certainly is an issue that needs more formal discussion, let's have it."
Mullins said, "I think my views are pretty well known." She also argued that Myrin's effort was a "shortsighted solution to a very complex problem and deserves a lot more discussion than at the table tonight. And I'm not sure that I would change my view on it anyway."
Frisch also said, "I don't see myself changing my mind."