Aspen reservoir infrastructure funds could hinge on plans for hydropower plant | AspenTimes.com

Aspen reservoir infrastructure funds could hinge on plans for hydropower plant

Aaron Hedge
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – City funding for a drainage line from Thomas Reservoir to Castle Creek could go away for the second phase of the construction next year if the Aspen City Council denies the proposed Castle Creek hydropower project, said Phil Overeynder, the city’s public works director.

The approximate $2.3 million for the line comes partially from $5.5 million in bonds the city applied for after voters approved the construction of the hydropower plant in 2007. Approximately $126,700 of that money will come from utilities department coffers.

The project’s total cost is nearly $6.2 million. The remaining funds will come from a grant of $400,000 and various other sources, Overeynder said.

There is no guarantee that the project will stay within that budget, but about $800,000 has been added to it for unforeseen expenditures, according to the City Council application.

Funds allocated for construction this year total $409,250, according to city budget documents.

The City Council could approve or deny the hydropower project at its regular meeting Sept. 13.

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Overeynder said the city is still within the confines of the project budget.

“We have broken it out line by line” and have a solid estimate of how much the whole project will cost, he said.

The hydropower plant would be constructed under the Highway 82 bridge that spans Castle Creek.

A construction crew already has a large portion of the pipeline completed, from just under the bridge through the Marolt Open Space and up to Aspen Valley Hospital. The crew started working on the project in March.

Should the council reject the hydropower project, the city utilities department would have to ask for a different funding source to finish the line, which is a special pressurized pipe meant for hydropower plants called a Penstock.

The rest of the money for the hydropower project would either be funneled to a similar green power project or be escrowed until the city can pay the bonds back, said Don Taylor, Aspen’s finance director.

Approval for the new funding line would be part of the normal budgeting process for fiscal year 2011, but the money would likely come from the utilities department budget, Overeynder said.

If the project is approved, the drain line would feed the proposed hydropower plant, which will allow a savings of $41,000 a year for the next decade and more after that, project directors say.

The city would have to buy less coal energy from a Nebraska power authority if the plant is approved, project manager David Hornbacher said last week. If the project is not approved, the line will simply empty into Castle Creek just below the Power Plant Road bridge.

Efforts to finish the drain line have to wait on approval of the hydropower project because if it is approved, the end of the drain will undergo a completely different construction process, Overeynder said.

Either way, the water returns to the stream, through the Penstock drain line if the project is struck down, or through a square concrete tube from the plant to Castle Creek if it is approved. None of the water taken from Maroon Creek will return to it.

The hydropower plant is part of the city’s Canary Initiative, a goal to reduce carbon emissions from the city’s energy consumption to zero by 2020. It would draw 52 cubic feet per second from Castle and Maroon creeks.

But the drain line will be completed either way, Overeynder said, because the Thomas Reservoir dam poses a threat to the Twin Ridge residential development just down the hill from it. A safety study of the dam, conducted in 1989, said the reservoir posed no public hazard. The Twin Ridge development was not yet built.

ahedge@aspentimes.com

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