| AspenTimes.com

Basalt town government expects big hit to sales tax revenues

Basalt town government will move ahead with road maintenance projects once the weather warms this spring, but other spending on capital improvements will be deferred until the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis becomes clear.

Moving ahead with maintaining town streets makes good economic sense because delaying will result in more costly repairs, Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said. Council agreed last week and approved a couple of contracts for about $325,000 from the general fund. That will cover milling and overlay of asphalt or crack sealing in areas including the roundabout near the Basalt Store as well as portions of Frying Pan Road and Two Rivers Road. Another $75,000 to $100,000 will be spent from special restricted funds for maintenance of Willits Lane, according to Mahoney.

Basalt, like most cities and towns across the U.S., is expecting a big economic blow because so many businesses are shut down because of the pandemic. Basalt relies on sales taxes for about 60% of its general fund revenue. The 2020 general fund budget anticipated $4.57 million in sales tax revenue out of total revenue of $7.58 million. Sales tax revenue also fuels the parks, open space and trails fund.

The projection for revenue has obviously has been blown up by the coronavirus. Grocery store sales make up about 35% of the town’s sales tax revenue.

Grocery and liquor sales have surged during March but just abut everything else has crashed. The balance will unfold in the coming weeks or months.

The Aspen Times posed questions to Mahoney and town finance director Christy Hamrick about the budget issues.

Aspen Times: Obviously, retail food sales are surging while most other categories are falling. General retail, sporting goods retail, lodging and restaurants have been hit as hard as any sector. How do you think the increase in grocery sales will compare to the loss in other areas?

Mahoney and Hamrick: We are a state-collected sales tax entity, and therefore, this information will be available for March’s sales in mid-April. That being said, we do anticipate that the loss of sales tax in these other categories will have an impact on our overall revenue collections. Grocery sales will likely not make up for the cumulative loss in these other sectors, and could be seen as a one-time increase in March grocery sales. The longer-term affect related to job loss and other factors related to COVID-19 impacts will not be seen until April and beyond.

AT: One salvation might prove to be the ability to tax online sales. Is there an expectation of seeing that category go up?

Basalt: The impacts of COVID-19 will affect many areas, and it’s difficult to quantify those impacts. The town doesn’t separately track online sales. Those sales are categorized based upon the appropriate business type. We believe that online sales over the past year have resulted in an increase in our sales tax during that timeframe. However, the effects from job loss and other COVID-19 impacts also will likely have an impact to online sales.

AT: Realizing you don’t have a crystal ball, have you adjusted sales tax projections for 2020? If so, what’s the impact on the budget?

Basalt: The town is currently working diligently to finalize numbers for 2019, while watching for indicators of how much sales tax will be impacted. While the town has not yet estimated the impact that COVID-19 will have on the budget for this year, it is safe to say we are anticipating COVID-19 will have a profound impact on many of the town’s revenue line items.

AT: Are there any specific plans for reducing expenditures to match realignment of revenues?

Basalt: The town has not created specific plans for reducing expenses at this point. However, we are thoughtfully considering all budgeted expenses in the current 2020 budget prior to incurring the expenditure. We do anticipate having to eliminate expenses from the 2020 budget, which may include capital expenditures and non-essential items that can be delayed.


Six of nine candidates in Basalt election forego contributions; Kane far outspends foes

Basalt mayoral candidate Bill Kane has raised $5,470 in cash and more than $1,000 in in-kind service for his campaign, far outdistancing all other eight candidates in the April 7 municipal election in contributions and expenditures.

Kane’s report filed with the town of Basalt shows he has raised $5,470 from 25 donors. Neither of his opponents — Bill Infante or Rob Leavitt — accepted contributions.

In fact, Leavitt has attempted to make that an issue.

“I plan to make this campaign about ideas and leadership, not about yard signs,” Leavitt wrote in an opinion piece that recently ran in The Aspen Times. “I will not accept campaign contributions and pledge to spend no more than $1,000 on my campaign.”

He urged people who would otherwise support his campaign to contribute to schools, churches or environmental causes rather than politics.

Leavitt’s finance report said he has spent $521.59 for brochures and posters and he has collected $175 in in-kind service from a graphic designer.

Infante’s report said he has spent $26.64 for postcards, $330.07 for yard signs, $65.26 for the voter lists in Eagle and Pitkin counties and $299.74 with a printer. His total expenditures through March 17 were $721.71.

Kane spent $2,389.53 through March 12 on yard signs and door hangers. He had $3,080.47 cash in hand.

Kane’s donors were: Doug MacDonald, Basalt, $500; Sam Hais, Clayton, Missouri, $2,000; Margaret Woods, Basalt, $20; Barbara Reid, Aspen, $150; Don Erdman, Basalt, $50; Ken Ransford, Carbondale, $250; Michael Stern, Basalt, $150; David Myler, Basalt, $200; David Chase, Snowmass, $50; Arnold Porath, Aspen, $500; Alan Schwartz, Basalt, $200; Mary Fox, Basalt, $100; Kathleen Cole, Basalt, $100; Andrea Rossetti Hollerbach, Basalt, $50; Lucy Smythe, Basalt, $25; Linda Haydock, Basalt, $100; Enid Ritchig, Basalt, $50; David Corbin, Basalt, $100; Stanley Gertzbein, Basalt, $100; Nina and Dick Stumpf, Basalt, $100; Sally Cole, Basalt, $75; Kent Meager, Snowmass, $250; and Dennis Carruth, Carbondale, $150.

Kane received a contribution of $50 from incumbent Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle, who is seeking re-election, but her donation was returned, according to the report.

In addition to the cash, Kane received $1,031.25 in donated services or products for his campaign. That included $371.25 from Alan Schwartz for “meet and greet food” and the following amounts for other campaign events: $120 for one case of wine from Bill Hegberg; $40 for sparkling water and wine from Sarah Shaw; $300 for food and beverages from Gino and Donna Rossetti; and $200 from Basalt Town Councilman Auden Schendler.

In the council race, only Riffle and Glenn Drummond collected donations. Riffle’s report showed she collected $625 in donations from eight parties through Feb. 26. The contributors were John Perko, Basalt, $50; Doug MacDonald, Basalt, $300; Richard Stumpf and Heather Hicks, Carbondale, $25; Rose Ann and Michael Leiner, Aspen, $50; Lee Reed, Carbondale, $50; Bernie and Donna Grauer, Basalt, $50; Gerald Terwilliger, Basalt, $50; and Katie Schwoerer, Basalt, $50.

Riffle had spent $421.01 on yard signs through Feb. 26.

Council candidate Tiffany Haddad didn’t collect contributions and spent $160.16 on yard signs and $82.11 on campaign postcards, according to her report.

David Knight didn’t collect donations and spent $105 on yard signs and $52.87 on printing of materials.

Elyse Hottel didn’t collect donations or spend any funds, her report said.

Kirk “Dieter” Schindler didn’t collect donations and spent $399.84 on yard signs.

Drummond’s report said he collected $3,295 in contributions and spent $2,098.75 through March 17.

His donations came from: himself and his wife, Genny, $700; Nancy Drummond of Sheridan, Wyoming, $500; Jacque Whitsitt, mayor of Basalt, $300; Mark Drummond, Glenwood Springs, $500; Mead Meredith, Silver Spring, Maryland, $50; Jaime Cheman, Silver Spring, Maryland, $50; Temple Glassier, Missouri Heights, $875; and Doug MacDonald, Basalt, $300.

Drummond spent $137.20 on yard signs, $874.65 on printing materials and $1,052.90 on advertising.

He had $1,196.25 funds on hand as of March 17.

The April 7 election is by mail ballot. In addition to selecting a mayor from the three candidates, voters will fill three council seats from the field of six candidates.


Close to 1,000 people apply for COVID-19 relief in Aspen area

More than 800 people have applied to Pitkin County’s COVID-19 financial relief program, with the majority of them being Aspen residents, according to Nan Sundeen, director of health and human services for the county.

Aspen City Council on Monday unanimously voted to appropriate $200,000 to the county fund, which is just around $1.3 million.

The county has ponied up $1 million and the town of Snowmass Village contributed $100,000 so far.

Council members agreed during Monday’s special meeting that much more will be required to help Aspen residents during this unprecedented crisis.

“People are saying that the $2 trillion federal package is not going to be sufficient,” Councilwoman Ann Mullins said. “We’re going to need more money … clearly the ($200,000) is not enough money for what we’re going to be facing in the next three months to three years, so the sooner we think about other sources of funds the better.”

Councilwoman Rachel Richards suggested that the city borrow as much as $5 million from the Wheeler Opera House fund, which has roughly $30 million in reserves, for local economic relief.

She also suggested that as much as $1 million be taken from the city’s housing fund to provide rental relief in municipal government-owned residential buildings, as well as those in the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority inventory and the free-market units where local workers reside.

“I think the magnitude of what we’re dealing with has come into sharper relief over the past week,” she said, referring to Gov. Jared Polis’ stay-at-home public health order and President Donald Trump giving guidelines that restrict Americans’ movement until April 30. “So we are all buckled in for a bumpy road.”

Council and city staff will discuss Richards’ proposal as early as next week.

As of Friday, 58% of the applicants for the Pitkin County relief fund are city residents and 16% were from Snowmass Village, according to Sundeen.

About $30,000 has been approved and of that, $25,000 has been doled out.

Sundeen said the county is distributing an average of between $600 and $1,800 to individuals and households.

“Eighty percent of that is for shelter,” she said Monday. “There has been some for food and gas and debit cards for other expenses.”

Applicants’ information is screened at three levels to determine eligibility and need.

Without getting into specifics about the criteria used to determine who and how much, Sundeen said people seeking financial assistance are asked certain questions like whether they have three months of shelter saved up, or if they were self-sufficient prior to March 14 when public health orders went into effect, drastically reducing employment opportunities resulting from the impacts of COVID-19.

The county has hired temporary workers and upped its volunteer base to help expedite processing the applications.

But still, it could take as long as a “few weeks to process,” according to an email that Sundeen sent Friday to applicants. “Be aware that someone will call you from a blocked phone number to conduct the required interview so please answer your phone to help expedite your request.”

“We are calling people back as soon as we can,” Sundeen said Monday.

The financial relief is aimed at providing a bridge for local workers who are awaiting state and federal assistance, Sundeen said.

“It’s a bridge to April, not April 1,” she said.

Her email urged applicants to talk to their landlords in an attempt to negotiate a deferred payment until county relief eligibility is determined. Those with mortgages are urged to contact their mortgage lender to negotiate a deferred payment schedule.

The email also points to websites for other financial aid, like the Colorado Department of Labor, as well as local food banks.

The city’s funds may be eligible for reimbursement in the future through state and federal relief packages; however, there is no guarantee, according to city officials.

They acknowledged that the reimbursement processes also take time, while the need is immediate for the city’s economically vulnerable residents.

Sundeen said there have been no private donations made into the county relief fund.

She added that the community embracing the COVID-19 crisis mantra of “we are all in this together” motivates her.

“We really appreciate the efforts of neighbor to neighbor,” she said. “It’s inspiring and keeps us going.”


Play through, but keep your distance: Some Glenwood-area golf courses play on

Several Garfield County golf courses are making the call to proceed with their planned season openings, but with precautions in place to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Golf courses were not specifically listed among “non-essential” businesses that were required to close under the most recent public health orders from the state of Colorado.

And, given the allowance for people to recreate outdoors as long as they practice social-distancing protocols, golf courses that have already opened for the season have proven popular destinations.

“It was kind of a gray area, is how I would describe it,” acknowledged Zac Sutherland, operations section chief for the Garfield County COVID-19 command staff.

Initially, when Gov. Jared Polis issued the state’s stay-at-home order on March 25, an AP report indicated golf courses, along with outdoor basketball courts and tennis courts, would fall under the mandatory closures.

But the order itself didn’t specifically mention those facilities, leaving it up to local jurisdictions to make that determination.

Some municipalities have since closed playgrounds, along with public basketball courts, tennis courts and other outdoor sports facilities. Others, including the city of Denver, have closed golf courses.

Since most golf courses are private entities, operators have been working with local public health officials to enact safety protocols if they decide to remain open.

“What we were left to do is come up with a way to say golf courses can open, but they need to maintain those safe distance guidelines and take other precautions (to protect public health),” Sutherland said. “Golf courses, just the way they are laid out, lends itself to being able to operate safely.”

A guiding document for all golf courses to follow is expected out this week, he said.

In the meantime, Rifle Creek Golf Course has led the way among area courses in announcing that it would stay open. The decision came after taking a couple of days to evaluate the situation and put some of those measures in place, according to a statement posted on the golf course’s website.

“We have decided to stay open and will be taking the utmost precautions within our operations to provide the safest environment possible for people who still wish to play golf,” according to the statement. “We encourage our customers to do their part to keep everyone safe by following the mandated social distancing requirements.”

Among the precautions:

The pro shop and dining room will be closed

Congregating on the deck is not allowed

Walking access only, no golf carts or pull carts

Restrooms in the clubhouse are available, and are routinely cleaned and sanitized

On-course restrooms and water drinking stations are closed

Flagsticks must be left in the cup (cups are raised to avoid contact)

All bunker rakes have been removed

Driving range remains closed.

The Glenwood Springs Golf Club is tailoring its guidelines after Rifle, in hopes of opening on Wednesday, General Manager Jerry Butler said on Monday.

The course last week put out a call to its patrons to help provide bleach and other cleaning materials to make sure they can sterilize the clubhouse premises. Much of what Rifle is doing will also be the standard mode of operation at Glenwood, with a few modifications that were still being worked out on Monday.

“Hopefully, all will be good and we can resume normal operations soon,” Butler said in an email.

River Valley Ranch in Carbondale has closed after being open for limited play last week, and is asking people to stay off the course until further notice.

“While some golf courses have remained open, we are temporarily closing as we believe it is our civic duty to do so during this time,” RVR operators announced in a Facebook message over the weekend. “Please help us by not entering course property. This includes the driving range, cart paths and fairways.”

Ironbridge Golf Course south of Glenwood Springs plans to open for member play only on Wednesday, and is currently planning to open for public play by April 11, when the governor’s stay-at-home order is currently scheduled to end.

“We also have been tracking the best practices for golf courses, and will be employing those,” Ironbridge Assistant General Manager Cal Kendrick said on Monday.

The pro shop are closed, and tee time check will be done over the phone or through a window, he said.

“We are carrying out the social distancing requirements, including a single person to a cart, no touching flag sticks and no raking of bunkers,” Kendrick said.

As many courses are doing, the cups are pulled up so the ball just hits the edge instead of dropping into the hole.

Hand sanitizing and washing stations with soap and paper towel dispensers are also set up, he said.

A beverage and snack cart will be operating on the course, but will also be following protocols, Kendrick said.

Elsewhere, Battlement Mesa Golf Club remains closed until April 11 and the private Aspen Glen Club allows members-only play. Lakota Canyon Golf Club in New Castle did not have information posted on its website, and could not be reached for comment.


That’s the spirit! Woody Creek Distillers shifts focus to sanitizer during crisis

Woody Creek Distillers whipped up a new concoction that is proving as popular as its vodka, gin and bourbon.

The distillery in Basalt made its first batch of sanitizer about 10 days ago.

“We’re using the World Health Organization recipe,” distillery operating partner Mark Kleckner. That recipe features 190-proof alcohol and glycerin.

Sanitizer has been difficult to find at times this month because of the spread and threat of the coronavirus. Distilleries have jumped in to fill the void.

“In the last week it’s gone nationwide,” Kleckner said last week.

The transition from spirits to sanitizer wasn’t all that complicated, he said. The crew is ahead in distilling duties so they switched over to sanitizer. It’s about five days from raw materials to finished product, including three days fermentation, one day of distilling and one day of mixing.

“The biggest challenge is getting vessels,” Kleckner said.

The distillery replaced its vodka bottles some time ago, so it is replacing the old leftovers. Woody Creek Distillers has already distributed close to 2,000 1-liter bottles of sanitizer.

“The vast majority of it is being donated to first responders, health care workers and essential businesses,” Kleckner said. “Pretty much all the people who are taking care of us.”

Pat Scanlan, a partner in the distillery, has personally delivered sanitizer to the fire and police departments in Aspen.

Connie Baker at the Marble Distilling Co. told the Glenwood Springs Post Independent earlier this month that the “biggest hiccup” in the hand sanitizer business is finding bottles. They’ve been able to produce sanitizer at their Carbondale facility.

Kleckner is exploring with law enforcement officials a way to give sanitizer away to the public without creating a line of people violating the social-distancing requirements. Details will be forthcoming if that can be worked out.

The distillery plans to keep making sanitizer as long as there is a need, and it will give it away.

“We’re not trying to make a profit on this,” Kleckner said.


COVID-19 mitigation, response efforts continue in Pitkin County

Although Aspen Valley Hospital hasn’t experienced what it would consider a “surge” of COVID-19 related cases yet, medical officials aren’t relaxing AVH’s preparation and public outreach.

“We are staying vigilant with our efforts to prepare for a surge in the coming weeks,” Jennifer Slaughter, chief marketing officer for AVH, said Sunday afternoon via email.

“We ask the community to do its part to help flatten the curve. Please take social distancing seriously so that we have the best chance of not overwhelming our service capacities at the hospital.”

Slaughter said AVH had admitted three patients with COVID-19 symptoms since Friday. Only two patients have been transferred to a “higher level of care” outside of AVH since March 9, Slaughter said.

She also said that since March 10, 42 total AVH employees have been out with some type of fever, cough or other combination of symptoms, but more than half have returned to work or are expected to return by April 2.

Along with continuing to ensure it is prepared for a potential surge and to monitor the health of its staff, AVH also plans to expand its alternative respiratory tent operations from five to seven days a week starting Monday. The tent aims to screen patients referred to the hospital with respiratory symptoms but is only a place to evaluate patients, not to test them for COVID-19.

However, at AVH, 16 patients have been tested for COVID-19 since March 9, three of which were health care workers. Six of the tests have come back positive, Slaughter said.

As of Sunday afternoon, there had been two confirmed COVID-19-related deaths in Pitkin County. The first was a 94-year-old man who died at his Aspen home March 24, and the second was a 55-year-old man who reportedly died two days before police officers found him during a March 27 welfare check, as previously reported.

The 55-year-old man was identified as Pauli Laukkanen, who was from Sweden and had lived in Aspen for many years, according to a news release from Pitkin County Coroner Steve Ayers.

The 94-year-old man’s identity will not be released anytime soon, Ayers said Sunday, as the man’s family is quarantined in different areas and wants to be able to grieve together in person before his name is released.

“I’m not sure if they’ve all been notified but they don’t want to have the name released until they can physically be with each other to handle the grief and we’ve decided to honor that,” Ayers said of the man’s family via text message Sunday.

Ayers also said Sunday that the COVID-19 test results of a third recent death in the county came back negative, allowing for an autopsy to be conducted.

The third recent death was a local man in his 50s who is believed to have died from an unknown medical problem unrelated to COVID-19. Ayers said more information would be released as it becomes available this week.

At the local emergency operations level, the Roaring Fork Valley team managing the local virus response is “in a holding pattern right now,” said Bill Linn, team spokesperson and assistant Aspen police chief. He did not expect any major response strategy updates or public health orders to be implemented in the near future as of Sunday afternoon.

At the state level, Colorado emergency response officials learned over the weekend that President Donald Trump approved a major disaster declaration for the state, making emergency aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA’s Public Assistance Grant Program available.

This aid is awarded as a 75% reimbursement for emergency protective measures like Emergency Operations Center-related costs, medical care within a shelter or temporary medical facility, and security and law enforcement, according to FEMA documents.

Moving forward, the state of Colorado may submit qualifying costs accrued since Jan. 20 as a result of its COVID-19 outbreak response to FEMA, which will offer a 75% reimbursement through its public assistance grant program. Local governments like Pitkin County can apply for the same 75% reimbursement for its COVID-19 emergency costs through the state as well, a news release states.

However, Micki Trost, strategic communications director for the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said Sunday this reimbursement process is long and complicated, meaning the state won’t receive the FEMA aid right away.

In Pitkin County, the novel coronavirus pandemic became a pointed local concern after a 21-year-old Australian woman who visited Aspen tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning home. CDPHE officials released the woman’s positive test results March 8, and 13 Australians traveling with the woman but still in Aspen went into isolation soon after.

On Sunday, The Aspen Times sought to learn if the Australians isolating in Aspen earlier this month had returned home. Karen Koenemann, county health director, said that because the visitors were not Pitkin County residents and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has “been the lead on this cluster,” the state health department would have that information.

CDPHE officials said Sunday afternoon via email that the state health officials do not provide specific information about people in quarantine or isolation unless it is necessary to protect public health. Because the Australians began isolating about three weeks ago, it is unlikely that they are still in isolation in Aspen, CDPHE officials said.

Through Saturday, there were 2,307 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across 46 counties, with 27 cases reported in Pitkin County, according to CDPHE’s Sunday case data update. The department’s data also shows there have been 47 deaths in Colorado related to COVID-19.

According to CDPHE survey results from 45,000 Coloradans on their perceptions and attitudes toward the novel coronavirus pandemic, 72% of respondents said they are “very concerned” about COVID-19 in Colorado and nearly 90% think it’s somewhat or very likely that they will get sick from the virus.


Business Monday: Airlines lay low but still flying in and out of Aspen

Signs of a crippled airline industry are evident locally at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, where commercial service has been reduced to a handful of daily flights with some passenger counts lower than crew sizes.

A $2 trillion economic relief package signed by President Donald Trump on Friday will bring some relief to commercial airlines, though $25 billion in grants derived from the $60 billion industry bailout requires participating carriers to keep paying their employees through the end of September. Furloughs and layoffs are not allowed under the bailout, the remaining $35 million of which will come through loans contingent on the airlines maintaining service levels to their markets.

The three commercial airlines serving Aspen have slashed local service.

American’s last flight to Dallas/Fort Worth was March 21, while that service is scheduled to return June 4, according to local travel consultant Bill Tomcich, Aspen’s liaison to the airline industry.

Delta has suspended flights to and from Atlanta, Los Angeles and Minneapolis, while the airline continues two scheduled flights daily to and from Salt Lake City. That will likely be reduced to one daily flight starting April 1, according to Tomcich.

United plans to be down to three scheduled flights daily between Aspen and Denver from April 1 to 13, though that schedule is subject to change.

For those few and far between passengers, the flights can be quiet and hassle-free.

Aspen resident Mel Ronick reported that he and his wife “were treated to a completely private nonstop flight from Aspen to San Francisco” on March 20.

“Yes, we were the only passengers on the flight,” he said. “Though it was nice, we did feel badly for United.”

For sure, it is an unprecedented challenge for the airline industry including 9/11, airline executives and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have said.

“9/11 was an extreme shock to the industry, but everything that I’ve been reading is this is way worse than 9/11 in terms of financial impact on the airlines and the industry,” Tomcich said.

Aspen tourism season was rolling through February when as many as 30 flights were offered daily, Tomcich said.

“We were coming off a very strong winter until the coronavirus broke out earlier this month,” he said. “So that is cause for optimism that the underlining fundamentals of our economy had been strong.”

When the economy rebounds is a matter of speculation, but daunting times await the airline industry if surveys are to be believed.

A recent Harris Poll found that 15% of Americans said they will fly within a month after the government says COVID-19 is waning; another 16% said they would wait to fly within three months; and another 49% said they would likely be ready at six months.

“Based on how doctors expect the virus to spread and how economists expect the global economy to react, we expect demand to remain suppressed for months after that, possibly into next year,” said United CEO Oscar Munoz and the man who will succeed him in May, United President Scott Kirby, in a message to employees last week and picked up my national media outlets. “That means being honest, fair and upfront with you: if the recovery is as slow as we fear, it means our airline and our workforce will have to be smaller than it is today.”


Marble quarry operators violated Clean Water Act, Army Corps of Engineers finds

MARBLE — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has determined that the operators of a local marble quarry violated the Clean Water Act when they diverted a tributary of the Crystal River to make way for a mining road.

In the fall of 2018, Colorado Stone Quarries, which operates the famed Yule Quarry just outside the town of Marble, diverted Yule Creek from its natural channel — located on the west side of Franklin Ridge, a rock outcropping — to the east side of the ridge. Operators piled the original streambed with fill material, including marble blocks.

Although this move probably spared Yule Creek the impacts of a diesel spill last October, it was done without the proper permits or oversight, according to the Army Corps.

Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, a project requires a permit from the Army Corps if it includes the discharge of dredged or fill materials into waters such as rivers, streams and wetlands. CSQ did not obtain a permit for the project because company officials thought the work was exempt, citing the temporary nature of the access road and creek diversion.

Army Corps officials disagreed.

“The work performed does not qualify for an exemption,” states a March 5 letter from Army Corps Colorado West Section chief Susan Nall, as the work “is being utilized for purposes other than moving mining equipment (e.g., hauling mined marble, accessing other portions of the mine, fuel staging area, and performing spill cleanup and monitoring activities) as required by the applicable exemption.”

Nall’s letter then declares: “Therefore, the work is a violation of the Clean Water Act.”

In order to remedy the situation, the Army Corps wants Yule Creek returned to its original alignment.

“Our preference is always to preserve the physical waterway if possible,” Nall said.

CSQ is considering a few different alignments for Yule Creek.

“The current alignment does accomplish the goal of creating separation between the creek and mining activities, which benefits the watershed,” CSQ general manager Daniele Treves said in a prepared statement.

The company plans to apply for an “individual permit,” which will require a 30-day public notice, public review and comments. The final decision on the Yule Creek alignment rests with the Army Corps.

The diversion of Yule Creek came to the attention of Army Corps staff after October’s diesel spill, which released roughly 5,500 gallons of fuel from storage tanks onto the ground.

Although CSQ notified the Army Corps in 2018 that they were planning to divert about 1,500 feet of the creek, the company didn’t follow the proper procedure and the Army Corps didn’t realize the scope of the work it was planning, according to Nall.

“We did not realize it was a formal request for concurrence of an exemption,” Nall said. “That might have been an error on our part. … We didn’t object, and they took it as a concurrence. Nothing is exempt until we say it is. They really should have obtained it from us in writing.”

DRMS penalty

On Wednesday, the board of the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety levied a $18,600 penalty for the October spill. The accident resulted in the quarry’s violation of three state statutes: unauthorized release of pollutants into groundwater, failure to minimize disturbance to water quality and failure to comply with the conditions of the permit.

DRMS determined September’s relocation of generators and the diesel-fuel tanks that supplied them was not approved and was a violation of CSQ’s permit. The diesel tanks were not put in secondary containment structures.

CSQ has agreed to pay the fine.

“We are always more interested in gaining compliance than the monetary aspect of it,” said Russell Means, minerals program director for DRMS.

According to an agreement between quarry operators and state regulators, CSQ also will continue to clean up the site, including bioremediation treatments to remove hydrocarbons from the soil and long-term water-quality monitoring.

Means and Nall said CSQ has been cooperative throughout the process.

“I think everybody’s interest is the same — we would all like to see the spill area cleaned up and the best thing for Yule Creek,” Nall said.

The quarry, now known as The Pride of America Mine, is owned by Italian company Red Graniti and employs about 30 to 40 people. According to CSQ, there are enough marble reserves contained in its six galleries to continue mining at the current rate for more than 100 years.

Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. For more, go to aspenjournalism.org.

City of Aspen claims immunity against Burlingame Ranch HOA $8M claim

The homeowners association at Burlingame Ranch, a city of Aspen developed affordable housing complex, has hired lawyers as it claims the municipal government is responsible for paying $8 million in construction defects and other associated costs.

The city is claiming governmental immunity as it heads into arbitration with the HOA, which represents 82 condominium owners at phase 2 of Burlingame Ranch.

At issue is the wildly different cost estimate of the repairs needed at the complex.

The construction consultants hired by the HOA’s attorney to assess the alleged defects estimate it will cost almost $4.9 million.

The city’s insurance carrier’s consultant comes in at just under $820,000.

Robert Lapidow, a Front Range-based attorney with Overturf McGath & Hull, retained by the city’s insurance carrier, said Friday that government immunity is a justifiable defense to protect all Aspen citizens and the municipality, particularly when negotiations are unsuccessful.

“This is a taxpayer-subsidized project and they shouldn’t pay over-exaggerated claims,” he said. “The city has limited resources and with claims like this government immunity is a defense the government can use.”

The two sides could not come to an agreement earlier this month in mediation and now are headed to arbitration.

Chris Griffiths, also a Front Range-based attorney who represents the HOA, said the city has been dragging its feet for years in addressing the construction defects at Burlingame, which is off Highway 82 across from Buttermilk Ski Area.

“Our hope has been that one day we would have a conversation about what’s wrong in that community, but that hope is fading,” Griffiths said.

Since homeowners started moving into their condos in 2014, construction defects began appearing — rapid deterioration of the exterior glulam wood beams, leaking roofs and failed solar systems among other issues, they claim.

The HOA board sent a letter to homeowners earlier this month that summarized its negotiations and current position regarding the city’s role as the developer of their deed-restricted units.

“It is our position that the city of Aspen clearly and intentionally acted as a developer in this instance, and should be held to the standard of a developer,” reads the letter. “The project was funded and managed by the (city’s asset department) and city management, and maintained declarant control of the (Burlingame II) Board of Directors through the warranty period of our community.

“We are disappointed in their decision to maintain this irresponsible position and to therefore force millions of dollars of repairs back on homeowners.”

The Griffiths Law office hired three consulting firms to evaluate the engineering, mechanical and technology systems at Burlingame Ranch II. Griffiths said in order to collect the full amount for the HOA, his firm is charging a 33.3% contingency fee, plus expenses.

The HOA’s consultants found defects in the wood beams, patios and hand rails, rooftop solar systems, water heater plumbing, fan coils, coax cable, as well as the lack of consideration of water quality, fire alarm pull stations, siding, exterior sidewalk and stairway and pressure reducing valves.

Haselden Construction and R.A. Nelson were the general contractors in the two phases of the original construction, which occurred between 2013 and 2015. Also on the project team were OZ Architecture, Resource Engineering Group, Inc., BA Consultants, Inc. and MV Consulting.

Homeowners have been dealing with construction issues and the city for the past five years but with no resolution.

The majority of residents in 2018 voted in favor to pursue a construction defect claim against the city.

“My goal was to not have our homeowners pay an assessment for mandatory repairs specifically linked to construction design and installation defects,” said Ben Yaeger, vice president of the Burlingame HOA board of directors.

City Attorney Jim True said the city has tried to work with the HOA but the association’s hired consultants’ demands are too high.

“Although the city has always been willing to directly address some matters related to the construction of the property, the association has rejected every effort by the city to resolve certain issues,” True wrote in an email. “Instead, with the help of its attorneys and hired experts, the association demanded a large settlement.

“When the initial efforts at settlement failed, the attorneys for the association threatened to take this out of the litigation process and circumvent the agreed-upon procedure for resolution and make it a political matter,” True continued. “This is apparently the next step in that effort to seek a political rather than a legal solution.”

In a Feb. 24 email from Griffiths to the city’s attorneys, he suggests the municipal government’s move to claim immunity rather than advancing the case to arbitration “would be politically devastating to say the least.”

Jacob Gudenkauf, an attorney with Overturf McGath & Hull, wrote back in a March 2 email calling it coercion.

“To the extent that the association seeks to make these claims political, I also remind you that the city subsidized this development to the tune of approximately $300,000 per unit, and many of the alleged defects appear to be the result of poor maintenance, or demands for a betterment or improvement of the current conditions,” Gudenkauf wrote. “Should there be any political implications raised by the association, I would suggest the association consider the implications of demanding the city pay an additional $4 million to further subsidize the Burlingame project.”

Griffiths said Friday that there is still time to talk.

“If they want to negotiate, we will negotiate,” he said. “If they want to talk about immunity, we’ll talk politics.”

Lapidow, representing the city, said the municipal government has acknowledged there are construction issues that need repair and has made offers to the HOA to rectify them.

“It’s not that the city is trying to hide behind governmental immunity,” he said. “We have made efforts to settle this.”

HOA President Steven Miller said homeowners feel the city needs to take full responsibility as the developer, especially because it is in the process of developing the third phase of Burlingame Ranch, which could have as many as 77 units.

“We don’t want our circumstances and problems to be overlooked in the development of (Burlingame III), so similar problems don’t arise there,” he said last week. “We also don’t feel it’s right for the city to move forward on developing another big project until the previous project is made whole and the original, as-built problems are resolved.”

The city settled with the HOA of Burlingame phase 1 in 2012 over defective siding by the manufacturer that was installed by Shaw Construction, the general contractor for that project.

Miller and other homeowners said the first issue that arose in phase 2 was the glulam beams, when at move-in they were already deteriorating.

City officials first claimed the wood would naturally fade and weather, and maintenance was not necessary, according to Miller.

Then the city’s position changed, with officials telling homeowners that the exterior beams required maintenance and instead of that cost being a line item in the HOA’s capital reserve account, it needed to be in the annual budget.

“They were distancing themselves from having to do anything,” Miller said.

That’s when the HOA looked for outside representation.

“The homeowners didn’t want to do this,” Yeager said Friday. “But the city didn’t take this seriously and we didn’t have the capacity to navigate through it.”

The city was the landowner at Burlingame II, but conveyed the land to the HOA in 2014 and 2015.

The city held a majority on the HOA board with three staff members until 2017 when homeowners took over entirely, according to Chris Everson, the city’s affordable housing project manager.

The city’s total public subsidy in the land, infrastructure and 82 condo units at Burlingame II is $27.2 million.

Both sides were aiming for arbitration in May but with the government immunity issue, it’s unclear what the next move is in the dispute.


Garfield County reports first death of person with COVID-19

A woman in her 70s who tested positive for COVID-19 died Saturday, a news release from Garfield County Public Health reports.

The release states the woman “had other significant health conditions” and that the county “extends deep condolences to the family members of the woman for their loss.”

No other information about the woman was available Saturday.

Pitkin County has reported two deaths related to the coronavirus, a 94-year-old man and a 55-year-old man.

County public health urged people to continue practicing social distancing and to stay at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19.

Garfield County’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 came March 14. As of Saturday, there were 23 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The total number of positive cases is unlikely to represent how widespread COVID-19 is in Garfield County, as testing is being made available only for those who are critically ill in a high-risk group where diagnosis would benefit treatment.