Aquifer ordinance blasted in Glenwood | AspenTimes.com

Aquifer ordinance blasted in Glenwood

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” An ordinance proposed by the Hot Springs Lodge and Pool restricting excavation in Glenwood Springs to protect the area’s geothermal aquifer met mainly questions and criticism Thursday night.

“The pool continues its effort to monopolize geothermal resources in Glenwood Springs and to thwart every effort of Pitkin Iron to develop its geothermal resources and real property located in Glenwood Springs,” a letter from the Burns Figa and Will, P.C. law firm states, representing the Pitkin Iron Corporation. “The former Mid-Continent property, including the geothermal resources associated with it, in fact is under contract. This latest stunt by the pool is an intentional effort to interfere with that contract and to prevent any development of the former Mid-Continent property.”

Pitkin Iron owns the former Mid-Continent property. It’s under contract for sale to an undisclosed buyer. The letter ends by threatening legal action should the pool’s efforts harm the pending sale.

Hot Springs Pool officials began a letter to the city about the proposed ordinance by mentioning that the Mid-Continent property is under contract for sale. The Colorado Department of Transportation plans to build a large office building on its property near there, and CDOT has already nicked the aquifer, the letter adds.

The ordinance would require permitting and study before any excavation in areas that could potentially damage the aquifer. It would also require the developer to prove conclusively that excavation wouldn’t damage it.

Scott Balcomb, an attorney representing the Hot Springs Lodge and Pool, said the pool was “astonished” by the Pitkin Iron letter and that the purpose was not to target anyone, but rather to ensure any developers know what they’re doing before accidentally damaging the aquifer. It would be for the benefit of the entire city and its residents, he said.

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“This does not enable us to monopolize the aquifer,” he said. “We’re not trying to keep them from doing anything. We’re just trying to keep the aquifer intact.”

Councilman Dave Merritt questioned whether the city would have the legal authority to create such an ordinance.

City attorney Jan Shute said that if the city created an ordinance like the one proposed, it would be the first of its kind in the state. She said that’s neither good nor bad, but added, “Council needs to understand that we would be putting the target on ourselves.”

CDOT representatives including Joe Elsen encouraged the city to examine USGS work and CDOT’s ongoing engineering work and studies before passing the proposed ordinance. In a later interview, he said CDOT is examining the possibilities of constructing a four-story, 40,000 square-foot building near its current facility. That would be used to consolidate a number of state agencies into one office. Hot water was flowing from a spot near the CDOT offices, Elsen said, but he said he was unsure whether or not CDOT “nicked” the aquifer in the 1970s and if that would actually make the pool’s winter time operations “infeasable,” as the pool has stated.

Elsen said he’s heard talk of the assertion, “nick the aquifer and all is lost.” But he believes there is still some mystery associated with the aquifer’s mantle that should be investigated.

Diane Delaney, representing Pitkin Iron, suggested it would be more appropriate for the city to create a geothermal aquifer management district if it wants to protect the aquifer.

Outside the council chambers, she said she couldn’t disclose who the Mid-Continent property is under contract with. The pool has had a history of “bullying, stultifying and interfering” that has effectively shut down any development of geothermal resources other than for its own private interests, she added.

A representative from the city’s energy board had earlier said he’s concerned that the ordinance might threaten development of the geothermal aquifer as a renewable resource for heating or energy.

“The pool seems to be trying to insert the city of Glenwood Springs into an area I think is the realm and province of the courts and the state engineer,” Delaney said.

The question was also raised that if further study indicates the pool’s flows from the aquifer aren’t as sensitive as the pool claims, maybe the proposed whitewater park should be located near downtown, where it was originally planned, instead of further downstream.