Aspen will seek more input on hydroplant proposal | AspenTimes.com

Aspen will seek more input on hydroplant proposal

Aaron Hedge
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Michael Faas/Aspen Times fileThe effect of a hydropower plant on Castle Creek will be the focus of a discussion, but not a City Council decision, on Monday.

ASPEN – A formal decision on the Castle Creek hydropower plant, which was tentatively scheduled for Monday’s Aspen City Council meeting, will be put off until Oct. 12.

The decision to extend the conversation comes after the city received a significant amount of feedback from residents who live along the stream saying the project will have disastrous effects on the ecosystem there.

Monday’s 5 p.m. meeting will host more public comment on the initiative, according to Assistant City Manager Randy Ready.

City Council members visited Castle and Maroon creeks last week to examine how the project would affect the rivers.

Mayor Mick Ireland decided to postpone the vote after the City Council visited the site of the proposed hydropower building on Thursday.

“There’s several people … who have approached us about having a stakeholder’s process” to find a middle ground between the city and residents who are opposed to the initiative, Ireland said.

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The city’s utilities department drew Maroon Creek down to 14 cubic feet per second (cfs) on Tuesday, which is the level Castle Creek will run at for about six months of the year if the project is approved.

The average level the stream runs at currently is about 50 cfs, but it plummets to about 14 cfs for the months of February and March. At peak runoff, it holds up to 975 cfs.

The hydroplant is expected to save the city an average of about $41,000 a year in energy it purchases from a Nebraska power authority for the first 28 years.

But a group of residents on Sneaky Lane, which runs along Castle Creek just above its confluence with the Roaring Fork River, say that figure is a minimal gain in comparison with the effect of drawing water from the creek.

Aspen officials say the health of the stream will remain intact, citing a city-commissioned environmental impact study of Castle Creek done by Bill Miller, of Miller Environmental Consultants.

The study concluded that the stream would remain healthy as long as it doesn’t go below 13.3 cfs.

A pipeline that would serve as a conduit for the water is being installed from the proposed hydropower plant site, and will operate regardless of whether the City Council approves the proposal.

If the project is not approved, Aspen utilities officials said, the pipeline will serve as a drain line for Thomas Reservoir, which they said poses a potential threat to the Twin Ridge subdivision just below the dam.

But people who oppose the plant say the pipeline is premature because it is being considered a part of the hydropower project, even though the city has not yet received permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build the project.

The city is planning on getting an exemption from the commission, instead of a license.

The project would take 25 cfs from 2 1/2 miles of Castle Creek and 27 cfs from Maroon Creek. All that water would return to Castle Creek about 300 feet above its merging point with the Roaring Fork River.

ahedge@aspentimes.com