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Annual Aspen feast on Tuesday showcases valley’s blossoming farm movement

An annual feast in Aspen on Tuesday will feature an unprecedented amount of food grown and raised in the Roaring Fork Valley, according to organizers.

The Farm To Table Community Meal presented by the Farm Collaborative, formerly known as Aspen TREE, will feature bounty that would be suspected — potatoes, onions, squash and other storage crops that are in fairly decent supply. But it also will feature loaves of bread made from grains grown at the Old Snowmass open space for the first time this summer.

"We make an effort to set the menu to what we can get," said Cooper Means, agricultural director for the Farm Collaborative.

He was in charge of working with the valley's farmers and ranchers to procure food for the feast.

"It's one of the most exciting days of my job," he said.

He ended up getting 1,700 pounds of vegetables and greens from Erin's Acres, Roaring Gardens, Two Roots, Rock Bottom Ranch, Sustainable Settings and Wild Mountain Seeds — all located in the middle Roaring Fork Valley. The meat is coming from Mountain Primal Meats in Emma.

Farm Collaborative's goal this year was to purchase at least 75 percent of the ingredients for the community meal from farmers in the Roaring Fork Valley. The remainder comes from the region — the North Fork Valley around Paonia and the Lower Colorado River Valley west of Glenwood Springs.

The local food will feed an estimated 1,500 attendees. Local chefs are donating their time and expertise to prepare the meal, with the help of volunteers who assist in everything from prepping to serving to cleanup.

The Farm To Table Community Meal will be served at the Hotel Jerome, and is free and open to all. There are seatings at 5, 6 and 7 p.m., though space is filling fast (reservations are required).

Farm Collaborative started the meal 10 years ago to celebrate the growing local food movement. The feast not only provides fresh food that tastes good, it builds awareness and support for local farmers, according to Eden Vardy, the collaborative's executive director.

"We're grounding ourselves in our home," he said.

The Farm Collaborative has a long-term lease on 14 acres from the city of Aspen at Cozy Point Ranch, at the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road. Its mission is to expand its farming and ranching operations, and educate people on what's being undertaken and what's possible. It also assists the broader local food movement in multiple ways, such as helping set up a tool library so that small farmers don't have to scrap together funds for machinery that is sparingly used.

Vardy said the benefits of the local food movement are immense, from keeping dollars in the valley to carbon sequestration.

"Our local decisions and actions have global repercussions," he said.

The meal also will mark the 10th anniversary of the founding of Aspen TREE, now the Farm Collaborative. The goal always has been to showcase local foods at the meal.

"The beautiful thing is we've had this dramatic increase from within our valley," Vardy said. That's only been accomplished by "extremely difficult" work by small farmers and ranchers, he added.

Means and a handful of his friends were reminded this fall just how hard farming is when they harvested grain grown at Pitkin County open space ground he leases in Old Snowmass in a trial to find out what varieties can handle this environment. They used ancient scythes for the process. Mountain Oven in Paonia will mill the grain and prepare the bread.

The community meal served 150 people in its first year. Now the number served has grown tenfold, including volunteers.

This year's event requires about 250 volunteers. To learn more about volunteer opportunities and sign up for a shift, go to http://www.thefarmcollaborative.org.

(Editor's note: This article was corrected to reflect that grain was grown on Pitkin County Open Space and Trails land under lease for agricultural uses in Old Snowmass.)


Glenwood Springs close to securing rights for new whitewater parks

GOLDEN – The City of Glenwood Springs has paddled around the last of several big obstacles in its way to obtaining water rights for three potential whitewater parks in the Colorado River, at Two Rivers Park, Horseshoe Bend and No Name.

While final approvals are not expected from various entities until late January, the city's water attorney, Mark Hamilton of Holland and Hart, told a state agency last week that general agreement in the water court case was at hand.

The proposed water rights are for "boating, rafting, kayaking, tubing, floating, canoeing, paddling and all other non-motorized recreational uses."

Glenwood Springs made the crux move in its five-year journey Wednesday, when Aurora and Colorado Springs signed off on a "call reduction provision" in the city's proposed water rights decree.

The provision carves out 30,000 acre-feet from the city's proposed 2013 water right to allow for future upstream transmountain diversions by the Front Range cities. Glenwood Springs had earlier offered a 20,000 acre-foot carve-out provision.

The city made another key maneuver Thursday, when the directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board agreed to amend a negative 2015 finding on the city's water rights application, and agreed to settle with the city in water court.

"Forgive us for being cautious and careful and slow," said Russ George, who represents the Colorado River basin at CWCB. "This one is not an ordinary (Recreational In-Channel Diversion). It has its own complications, and overall it had become just a tricky, thorny, complicated project."

It also was announced Thursday that the Colorado River District and the town of Gypsum support the settlement in concept and are working on final approvals.

no name sites low priority

Under the settlement, Glenwood Springs has agreed to consult with Colorado Parks and Wildlife on the location, size, design and construction at the three prospective whitewater park sites, including giving Horseshoe Bend the lowest priority of the three locations because of bighorn sheep in the area.

"Horseshoe Bend kind of sits in third position for a variety of reasons," Jay Skinner, an instream flow specialist for CPW, told the CWCB directors Thursday. "It certainly is our least favorite of the three sites."

The Two Rivers Park location is just downstream from central Glenwood Springs, and just above a busy boat ramp at the park.

Horseshoe Bend and No Name are not far upstream from downtown in Glenwood Canyon. They are on a Class II stretch of river below the Class III-to-Class IV Shoshone run. The highway is separated from the river at Horseshoe Bend, and there is an Interstate 70 rest stop next to the river at No Name.

The city has previously obtained settlements in the water court case from the Bureau of Land Management, the Colorado Department of Transportation, Denver Water, Ute Water Conservancy District, Grand Valley Water Users Association, West Divide Water Conservancy District and the Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge and Pool.

"This ends three years of really intense negotiations and collaborations with the applicant (Glenwood Springs) and a lot of work finding compromise and middle ground on this," Pat Wells, general manager of water resources and demand management at Colorado Springs Utilities, told the CWCB on Thursday.

Aurora and Colorado Springs, as partners in the Homestake storage and diversion project, have a high interest in the city's claims for flow levels in the Colorado River, as they now intend to build a dam and reservoir on lower Homestake Creek as part of the "Eagle River MOU" project.

That project includes diverting 20,000 acre-feet of additional water under the Continental Divide from the upper Eagle River basin. It also includes diverting 10,000 acre-feet of water for Western Slope uses.

In 2012, the two cities told federal officials "as much as 86,400 acre-feet of water supplies may be developed by completion of the Homestake Project."

As such, Aurora and Colorado Springs wanted some protection from Glenwood Springs' pending water right, which would carry a priority date of 2013.

protects summertime flows

The city's water right would span 183 days, from April 1 to Sept. 30 each year.

For 137 of those days, the water right calls for a steady flow 1,250 cubic feet per second, which is the same level of flow that the senior Shoshone hydropower right can call for on the river, above the proposed whitewater parks.

So, for the bulk of the time, Glenwood's new water right would make no difference on the river, as it is in the shadow of Shoshone.

But the city wants to step out of that shadow and call for 2,500 cfs of water for 46 days, from June 8 to July 23. And, it could call for 4,000 cfs of flow on five days around the Fourth of July, in order to hold competitive boating events.

It is in the 46-day high-flow period when the carve-out will kick in, and reduce by about 25 percent the amount of water the city was pursuing.

"It does limit, significantly, the amount of time that this water right is going to be able to call," Rob Harris, an attorney representing both Western Resource Advocates and American Whitewater, in support of Glenwood Springs, told the CWCB. "But frankly, that's the nature of compromise."

Harris said the remaining flow levels in the river still work for the whitewater parks.

"These are the proper flow rates," he said. "These rates are the rates that stakeholders in the city and in the community have asked for, and balancing that with this carve out is appropriate."

Editor's note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and other Swift newspapers. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Aspen’s housing program holding scofflaws accountable, focusing on compliance cases

With the creation of an enforcement position within the local housing authority earlier this year, all but a dozen or so compliance cases remain out of the 150 that were active when Bethany Spitz took the job almost four months ago.

"It's huge," she said of the effort made thus far in getting people who live in the roughly 3,000 ownership and rental units within the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority compliant with the rules. "A lot of it was following up and taking action on little things like a tenant who hadn't qualified."

There are bigger cases lingering, however. Six notices of investigations have been issued to homeowners, as well as three notices of violations and two appeals from residents to the APCHA board of directors.

Individuals who live in APCHA units are required to provide proof that they work a minimum of 1,500 hours a year in Pitkin County, among other regulations depending on what the deed restriction is on a particular unit.

Tenants in rental units are required to re-qualify every two years by providing tax and employment information. Homeowners must do the same.

Prior to Spitz coming on as APCHA's compliance manager, there was not a full-time person dedicated to ensuring that the thousands of people within the program are legally living in their units.

As a result, APCHA has had low response rates, which prompted the APCHA board earlier this year to recommend to city and county elected officials to pass a fine structure for dozens of different infractions that's designed to force people to prove they are in compliance.

"We will go to 100 percent compliance, whatever that takes," said Spitz, adding that the first goal of APCHA is to educate the public on what their responsibilities are when living in taxpayer-subsidized housing.

Spitz said a random audit done in August selected 20 homeowners. APCHA asked them for qualifying information. Only 50 percent of them responded, which necessitated Spitz having to issue notices of violations to those residents in order to get them to comply.

Spitz said next year the goal is to conduct five audits a month for homeowner units.

There also will be a census within the entire program, which will coincide with the planned $1 million Housing Information Management System that is designed to improve the system's data collection, reporting and analytics.

Spitz said a comprehensive database and system will help manage all of the units in APCHA's inventory, and who is living in them.

APCHA operates mostly on complaints, and many of them are anonymous. Those cases are more difficult to prove because it often becomes a he said/she said situation, Spitz said.

The board, which is made up of seven citizens, must make decisions on individuals' appeals after they've been served a notice of violation.

The board earlier this year recommended to elected officials that a hearing officer be charged with evaluating appeals from residents so it can focus solely on policy.

With a stronger emphasis on compliance this year, APCHA has turned over 12 ownership and 25 rental units.

"We are turning over units for qualified people who are living and working in Pitkin County," Spitz said. "And maintaining public trust and the integrity of the program."


What’s the Big Deal: Snowmass condo sale nears $3.8 million

"What's the Big Deal?" runs Mondays and is based on the most expensive property transaction recorded in Pitkin County through 3 p.m. each Friday.

Price: $3.775 million

Date recorded: Nov. 15

Address: 610 Streamside Court, Snowmass Village

Subdivision: Owl Creek Homes Phase VII

Buyer: CJCA Holdings LLC

Seller: David Barnes trustee, David Barnes Trust

Property type: Condominium

Year built: 1998

Livable space: 3,862 square feet

Property tax bill: $13,171.28

Business Monday Briefs: Sammy Sosa sued over Aspen rental deal; uphill industry meeting moved

Uphill symposium moves to spring

A three-day symposium centered around the uphilling industry that the city of Aspen is organizing has been moved from the first weekend in December to the last weekend in March.

Phillip Supino, the city's long-range planner, said feedback from people in the industry and equipment manufacturers said the original dates of Dec. 6 to 8 are difficult for travel and springtime would be better.

Hosting the gathering will coincide with the city's economic development initiative as part of incorporating the elements of the industry into the resort community.

Ex-MLB slugger sued

A lawsuit in Pitkin County District Court claims former major league baseball slugger Sammy Sosa balked on a rental agreement in Aspen.

Litigant MTWK Snowbunny Lane LLC claims Sosa used a Florida limited liability company to agree to rent a home for 17 days during the Christmas holidays of 2017. Sosa and the LLC, however, did not pay the required $100,000 deposit or the agreed amount of $9,500 per day to rent the Snowbunny Lane home.

"Mr. Sosa failed to provide the required deposit despite numerous requests, and ultimately due to his failure, the homeowners suffered significant financial loss due to the inability to find a new renter so close to Christmas," said suing attorneys Daniel and Kathryn Becnel of Louisiana in a statement issued Friday. "Despite request of payment of the contract, Mr. Sosa and his representatives failed to respond or address this matter."

The suit also claims that Sosa's LLC is not in good standing with the state of Florida.

Skico debuts deal

Aspen Skiing Co. announced last week the debut of its Early Season Free Fridays package, which runs through Dec. 21.

Visitors who book two nights of lodging at participating lodges and buy two adult lift tickets, at a discounted rate of $60 a day, receive their third ticket free.

Tickets must be purchased by 6 p.m. Dec. 14 by calling Stay Aspen Snowmass at 800-679-3154.

Aspen Mountain opened Saturday. Snowmass opens Thanksgiving Day, while the lifts are scheduled to start cranking Dec. 8 at Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk.

Court allows class-action against Aspen towing company

Attorneys for a man suing an Aspen towing company for overtime compensation can start sending notices to other prospective plaintiffs to form a class-action suit, according to a court ruling delivered last week.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kristen L. Mix, in an 11-page order issued Nov. 13, cleared plaintiff and former Shaun's Towing and Recovery driver Joseph Durrant to notify current and former employees of the company about the litigation and provide instructions on how to join the class action.

Mix's order supported Durrant's motion describing eligible class members as "all tow truck drivers who worked for Shaun's Towing And Recovery, LLC and/or Shaun Healy, at any time from three years before the date of the mailing of this notice through the final disposition of this case, but did not receive overtime for hours worked over 40 in any workweek."

The notice also must tell prospective plaintiffs they may have to appear in Denver for court proceedings, Mix's order said.

Durrant's complaint, which was filed in December in the U.S. District Court of Denver, claims he worked as a driver with Shaun's Towing from August 2015 until February 2016, earning $13 an hour plus 30 percent commission. The suit claims he wasn't paid for "the required rate of time-and-one-half for all hours worked over 40 each workweek."

The suit makes claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Colorado Minimum Wage Claim Act and the Colorado Wage Claim Act.

Durrant has alleged he and other employees were paid for two weeks of work regardless of the number of hours they logged. Some workers put in as many as 96 hours a week, Durrant alleges.

The defense has countered that Durrant cannot recruit "similarly situated employees" to join his suit because drivers could be required to cross state lines as part of their job, while Durrant did not.

Durrant and other employees "are exempt from receiving overtime compensation under the FLSA as they are subject to the Motor Carrier Act Exemption," the defense argued. The defense asked that the class be restricted to drivers who only worked within state lines, but Mix ordered the class could include all drivers.

The Motor Carrier Act exempts employees who work overtime, provided they are involved in interstate commerce through driving activities, from receiving time-and-a-half pay.

Mix's ruling said the defendants failed to provide information to the court supporting that distinction.

"Defendants have offered no basis for differentiating between employees who worked solely in Colorado and those who worked in Colorado but also transported motor vehicles across State lines," the magistrate judge's order said.

However, Mix said that argument can be brought up again after the discovery portion of the litigation.

At this stage of the case, Mix also noted that the plaintiffs only need to demonstrate a "modest showing" that Durrant and other class members were victims of labor law violations by Shaun's Towing.

Shaun's Towing started in 2005 and serves the entire Roaring Fork Valley.

Corpus Christi, Texas, attorney Clif Alexander, who represents Durrant, and Shaun's Towing lawyer Michael P. McGovern of Knoxville, Tennessee, could not be reached for comment last week.


House bill drops legal protections for gray wolves; Colorado’s Tipton in favor

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-controlled House passed a bill Friday to drop legal protections for gray wolves across the lower 48 states, reopening a lengthy battle over the predator species.

Long despised by farmers and ranchers, wolves were shot, trapped and poisoned out of existence in most of the U.S. by the mid-20th century. Since securing protection in the 1970s, wolves have bounced back in the western Great Lakes states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as in the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest.

About 5,000 wolves live in the lower 48 states, occupying less than 10 percent of their historic range.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the wolf’s status and is expected to declare they’ve recovered sufficiently to be removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The House bill would enshrine that policy in law and restrict judicial review of listing decisions. The measure was approved, 196-180, and now goes to the Senate, where prospects are murkier.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., said farmers in Wisconsin and other states are “one step closer to having the legal means to defend their livestock from gray wolves.”

States should be responsible for managing wolf populations, “not Washington bureaucrats,” Duffy said.

Among those voting in favor was Colorado’s 3rd District Congressman Scott Tipton, who represents western Colorado.

“Without an effective method of managing the species in place, the gray wolf poses a threat to livestock as well as other native species habitats,” the Republican congressman from Cortez, who was elected to a fifth term over Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush in the Nov. 6 election, said in a prepared statement.

“It is long past time that the gray wolf be officially de-listed, so state agencies can responsibly manage the population, better tailor management plans to meet the unique circumstances and conditions in each state, and ensure they continue to thrive in a healthy and balanced ecosystem,” Tipton said.

Environmental groups and many Democrats slammed the bill as a last-ditch effort by Republicans to push a pro-rancher agenda after losing control of the House in this month’s midterm elections.

“This final, pathetic stab at wolves exemplifies House Republicans’ longstanding cruelty and contempt for our nation’s wildlife,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based environmental group.

“The American people overwhelmingly support the Endangered Species Act and the magnificent animals and plants it protects,” Hartl said. “We don’t expect to see these disgraceful anti-wildlife votes next year under Democratic control of the House.”

Livestock industry associations representing ranchers who have to contend with wolves scaring and attacking cattle and sheep supported the bill. They said in a letter to Congress that wolf populations have recovered to the extent that the animal would have been removed from the endangered species list if not for “activist litigants” who “used the judicial system to circumvent sound science and restore full ESA protections to these predators.”

A spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service said the agency is completing a review of the wolves’ status in the lower 48 states and expects to make a recommendation in coming months. The agency did not take a position on the House bill.

Comments from Colorado 3rd District Congressman Scott Tipton news release were added to this AP report by Aspen Times staff.

Colorado 2019-20 budget request at $33.4 billion, up 5 percent

DENVER (AP) — Colorado’s John Hickenlooper on Friday presented his last budget request as governor to lawmakers — one he says helps prepare the state for an eventual recession.

Hickenlooper spoke on Friday before the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee. The bipartisan panel will use the proposal in fashioning a state budget for fiscal years 2019-2020 during next year’s legislative session.

The governor’s $33.4 billion request is nearly 5 percent, or about $1.5 billion, above the current budget.

It includes $13.2 billion in discretionary spending and would increase state reserves from 7.25 percent to 8 percent of the general fund — more than $954 million — to prepare for an economic downturn.

Hickenlooper called the request “a responsible one in the sense of accommodating what we can’t see.”

“Part of being a Coloradan is being prepared,” the governor said, noting that the credit rating agency Moody’s “still projects that we can’t withstand a moderate recession without making some cuts in the state budget.”

The Democratic governor has served the maximum two terms and leaves office in January.

Colorado has seen sustained economic growth and low unemployment in recent years, but still struggles to finance public schools, higher education and transportation projects.

Those struggles include sometimes-conflicting constitutional mandates, adopted by voters, restricting the government’s ability to raise taxes or issue bonds without asking voters. Those voters rejected ballot measures Nov. 6 that would have increased funding for public education and for transportation.

A constitutional mandate requiring annual increases in K-12 school spending has been grossly underfunded for years because of the tax-and-spend restrictions. And by law, legislators must produce a balanced budget each year.

Hickenlooper is seeking $30 million in water infrastructure over the next three years to help implement a state water plan that seeks to accommodate the needs of the growing metropolitan Front Range while ensuring agricultural areas can weather a prolonged and severe drought.

The proposal also seeks $121 million to keep tuition flat at public colleges and universities. It calls for increased tax credits for child care and more spending to cover the state’s share of Medicaid health coverage for growing numbers of the elderly.

The Drop-In: Aspen Mountain Opening Day (video)

What a great opening day on Aspen Mountain!  Check out the fun on the hill in this episode of the Drop-In with bonus footage at the end with the new Aspen Mountain Manager.

Tweet All About It: All downhill from here

Each week, we pick out our favorite and not-so-favorite tweets (at least those that are printable) about Aspen and display them on Sunday's page A2.

• "For Seattle-area skiers, this might be the year for a trip to Aspen, Colorado, particularly if you purchased the Ikon Pass — good for several days at Aspen's four mountains." — @seattletimes

• "I really need this money to stop playin because I'm suppose to go to Portland and Florida in January and Aspen in February. At this rate I'm only making it to my couch." — @murrrsayds

• "sometimes i think 'damn, at my age, my parents had been married a few years! they were so far ahead. such mature adults!'then i remember they also still didnt have kids, were ski bums in Aspen and regularly doing coke. so they were both more mature AND more cool than me" — @barleypoop

• "We want to give a big JAS CONGRATS to past #JASLaborDayExperience artists @KeithUrban & @carrieunderwood who took Entertainer of the Year & Female Vocalist of the Year @ the #2018CMAs last night! See who else took home a W — who knows they could end up on the JAS Stage" — @JazzAspen

• "@lancearmstrong I'll give you a free watch if you run all the streets in Aspen." — @rickeygates

The Aspen Times can be found on Twitter, as well. Simply type "TheAspenTimes" (no spaces) into the search bar, and get daily updates on what's happening in the Roaring Fork Valley.