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Aspen hydro plant will go to vote in November

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesA plan to harness Castle Creek to provide hydroelectric power will go to Aspen voters in November.
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ASPEN – The Aspen City Council decided Monday that voters will be allowed on Nov. 6 to settle the question of whether the city can build a hydroelectric plant using water from Castle and Maroon creeks.

Officially, the council’s unanimous vote rescinded an ordinance it passed Dec. 12 that gave land-use approval and rezoned open space property for the Castle Creek Energy Center hydroelectric plant off Power Plant Road. But council members said they would work this year to craft language for an Election Day referendum that would leave the project’s fate up to city voters.

City Clerk Kathryn Koch said the deadline to pass a resolution with the ballot language would come in the first week of September. Under city law, the ballot language must be made available to voters at least 60 days before the election.

The language is likely to be a big sticking point between project opponents and supporters. Critics of the project say local voters didn’t know what they were voting for when in 2007 they overwhelmingly supported the $5.5 million bond issue that set financial plans for the hydroelectric facility into motion.

Council members were basically forced to rescind the ordinance following a recent petition effort by project opponents that proved successful. The petition, seeking a repeal of the ordinance and a referendum to decide whether the city should continue the project, was led by Ward Hauenstein and Maurice Emmer. It had well more than the required 594 signatures of city-registered voters.

At Monday’s meeting, which ran past 11:30 p.m., Hauenstein and Emmer both said they would work with the timeframe for a November election. Previously, the project critics expressed favor for a spring special election, which usually results in lower turnout than the presidential election date.

Project opponent Connie Harvey said the city should abandon the project as “a good-faith thing.” She said the city exhibits “a kind of dismissiveness and a kind of contempt for any of us who disagree” with the project.

Hauenstein said he would work on a campaign that would seek to inform voters on both sides of the fence, keeping the debate positive, as long as the ballot language decided by the council includes binding and clear language.

Councilman Steve Skadron expressed concern about the fact that project critics won’t release a list of those who have contributed to the effort to stop the Castle Creek hydropower initiative. Some council members, along with Mayor Mick Ireland, have said that the project opposition is being fueled by big-money interests with which the city will have trouble competing in the advertising arena.

“I am fighting for the hydroplant. I think it’s absolutely the right thing,” Skadron said. “The fact remains that our hydroplant is a well-conceived project with a financially sustainable model. Throwing it overboard because of cost overruns in the near term while it remains financially sound in the long run is totally irrational to me.”

To date, the city has spent more than $7 million on the project’s design, construction and equipment. The city recently estimated the total project cost at $10.5 million, well more than the original $6.5 million projection.

Ireland said he was in favor of letting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission process run its course. The city has applied to FERC for a permit to operate the plant. But until voters decide the matter, the FERC process will have to be put on hold.

“If FERC says ‘no,’ we don’t have a project,” Ireland said.

“I don’t think FERC has ever said ‘no,'” Harvey shot back.

asalvail@aspentimes.com


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