Aspen officials, critics face off on hydropower proposal |

Aspen officials, critics face off on hydropower proposal

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Just in case you haven’t had enough of the Castle Creek hydroelectric power project controversy, the Aspen Business Luncheon Wednesday will serve up a forum squarely devoted to the mind-numbing topic.

All kidding aside, the forum will feature a square-off between two city officials, City Manager Steve Barwick and Director of Utilities Dave Hornbacher, and two project critics, Paul Menter and Ken Neubecker. Menter is CFO of Rocky Mountain Connections, a destination services firm, and formerly served as city of Aspen finance director. Neubecker is executive director of the Carbondale-based the Western Rivers Institute.

The event begins at 12:30 p.m. at the Hotel Jerome. The cost of a seat and access to the lunch buffet is $30, which covers sales tax charges and a tip. More than 100 people have preregistered so far, but more seats are available, according to Aspen Business Luncheon coordinator Todd Shaver.

One of the likely discussion points will be the ultimate cost of the project, which is designed to divert water from Castle and Maroon creeks to help the city electricity utility lessen its reliance on coal-fired power from Nebraska. City officials put the number at $10.5 million, while project opponents place the long-term expense at $16 million or more.

The city’s right to use water from the Castle-Maroon watershed for a new hydropower project is the subject of a lawsuit filed primarily by landowners in the vicinity of the creeks.

Shaver said he decided to make hydro a luncheon topic simply because it’s become a local issue in recent years. He said he’s not for or against the project.

“I saw the need for a discussion,” he said. “I’m sort of a middle man on this. I just like putting these things on as a community benefit.”

Meanwhile, the organizers of a petition aimed at rescinding a recent City Council ordinance that rezoned property for the hydro plant say they have gathered well over the required number of voter signatures necessary to send the issue to a vote or force the council to rescind its decision.

Aspenites Ward Hauenstein and Maurice Emmer said they filed the petition with the Aspen City Clerk’s Office on Tuesday. They said they needed about 600 valid signatures, which represent 10 percent of the city electorate, but were able to garner 953.

Hauenstein said about 50 volunteers worked to gather signatures during the two-week petition drive.

“While we believed that giving the citizens of Aspen a say in the hydro project was important, we are humbled and heartened by the overwhelming support and enthusiasm we have encountered from citizens, business leaders and organizations in the Aspen community who also believe the public deserves the right to vote on this important matter,” Hauenstein said in a prepared statement.

Emmer said he hopes the council will honor the request of a huge number of citizens by calling a special election. The council doesn’t have to call a referendum on the issue; if the clerk’s office deems that the petitioners have gathered the minimum number of valid voter signatures as required by city code, the council could vote to simply rescind the zoning ordinance on its own.

But if council members don’t choose that route, they will have to call a referendum on the zoning question.

“The number of signatures we collected far exceeds the total number of voters who turned out in 2007 to approve bonds for this project,” Hauenstein said. “We’re excited to be able to give the citizens of Aspen a way to have their voices heard on this crucial issue.”

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