Crystal River Caucus ruckus
January 24, 2007
ASPEN The Pitkin County commissioners got an earful Wednesday from a Crystal River Valley resident who asked for an investigation into what he called a “smear campaign.”Ray Pojman, a member of the Crystal River Caucus board, accused County Commissioner Dorothea Farris and Dale Will, director of county Open Space and Trails, of making “misleading and inflammatory remarks” in local newspapers on a number of issues regarding a proposed trail and access to county open space. Pojman, speaking not as a representative of the caucus but as a private citizen during Wednesday’s county commissioners meeting in Aspen, categorically denied Farris’ claims that Crystal River Country Estates homeowners staged a coup at October’s caucus meeting to push their own issues.”To imply that one person unduly influenced caucus attendance is untrue,” he said. And he accused Farris of trying to discredit the Crystal River Caucus by saying a minority took control.Crystal Valley residents are at odds over their section of a proposed 53-mile trail that would connect Carbondale with Crested Butte. An area survey and master plan showed general support for a trail that would follow Highway 133 with diversions in some areas. And one of those areas of diversion, the 65-acre Red Wind open space parcel, is the major sticking point. Officials from Open Space and Trails would like to see public access to the space, but some, particularly homeowners in the adjacent Crystal River Country Estates, oppose public access to the land or a a trail adjacent to their homes. The caucus board commissioned a wildlife study of the area.At Wednesday’s commissioners meeting, Pojman claimed that Will and Open Space and Trails chose to proceed with the purchase of Red Wind Point before the resolution of access and other issues. And Pojman quoted Farris’ comment from an earlier caucus meeting acknowledging that the public would not have access to the open space across the subdivision’s private bridge.Pojman said that access to the open space is an open question, and that “the county could have open space with no public access at all when preserving wildlife.””Instead of dealing in good faith, Commissioner Farris and Dale Will have chosen to mount a propaganda campaign. To imply that the property owners of the Crystal River Country Estates have somehow coveted open space property for their personal gains is a deliberate attempt to foster public anger against our subdivision and gain support for public access over private property,” Pojman said.He was upset over comments that the cancellation of today’s caucus meeting was a delay tactic, and Pojman called it unacceptable for a county official to instigate a bid against constituents who disagree with the county’s position.In a later conversation he claimed that The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Post Independent were acting as agents of the county.He ended his comments with a finger-wagging “shame on you” to Farris before commissioners chairman Michael Owsley cut him off.In a later statement, Farris stood by her comments on the controversial trail issue and open space access in the Crystal River Valley.She said the wildlife task force conducted its study with the pre-determined outcome that there should be no access to the Red Wind Point open space are because of wildlife impact. And Farris is concerned that the caucus is taking actions that oppose the area master plan which supports a trail through the area and access to open space.Farris approves of the public debate over the issue and said, “It will get people concerned about the trail interested.”Will is frustrated that a number of public agencies, including the Colorado Division of Wildlife, have received a preliminary copy of the wildlife report, but not Open Space and Trails.Caucus spokesman Tom McBrayer said any preliminary copies of the report were not authorized and should be disregarded and that the wildlife taskforce will make the official presentation at the next caucus meeting.Regarding the bike path through the area and access to some remaining remnants of the Crystal Railroad grade, Will said “the majority has already spoken” in favor of both issues.Will stressed that Crystal River Country Estates residents have been accessing the Red Wind Point area for years – many signed a petition to that effect in 1990 – and the tracks in the snow from the subdivision to the open space area tell the real story, that residents of the adjacent subdivision have long enjoyed exclusive access.”We work hard to balance public recreation and wildlife habitat,” Will said. And while he admits there is some debate over whether an easement across the bridge near the subdivision includes public access, Will said residents of the Crystal River Country Estates are blocking access to the bridge and county open space.”We have to challenge their easement or build another bridge,” Will said. While the county owns an adjacent easement to build an additional footbridge to access the open space, residents of the subdivision have installed mailboxes at the site of a new bridge, Farris said.”Many people who live in that neighborhood don’t feel represented by Mr. Pojman,” Will said.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.