Basalt government gets nonprofit’s river center back on track

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

A Basalt nonprofit organization says its effort to raise funds for an education center on the banks of the Roaring Fork River were revived by a recent action by Town Hall.

Roaring Fork Conservancy Executive Director Rick Lofaro said the group secured a “significant” pledge by a private donor after the Basalt Town Council committed between $300,000 and $500,000 in aid to the project on July 22.

The town agreed to buy back the land it sold to the conservancy for its river center by Old Pond Park, along Two Rivers Road. The conservancy paid $405,000 for the property.

The Rocky Mountain Institute acquired property to the east where it plans to build an office and “innovation” center that demonstrates its energy-efficiency successes.

“I’ll use (Scanlon’s) words, ‘They’ve broken the logjam for us.”
Rick Lofaro, Roaring Fork Conservancy

Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon urged the council to buy back the land and give the conservancy a “sweetheart” lease. He said the discount is warranted because the town should be supportive of a nonprofit it helped create and whose mission is vital to the town’s long-term health and success.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy conducts water-quality and -quantity-monitoring programs in the Roaring Fork River watershed. A major focus is on educating people of all ages on water-related issues.

Scanlon said Basalt’s economic health depends on healthy rivers and streams for fishing and water sports.

He is still working on details on how the town government will buy back the land. Most will come out of the Parks, Open Space and Trails fund. The remainder will come from the general fund.

The conservancy has scaled down the size of its river center. Reacquiring the property makes good sense, according to Scanlon.

“It’s just a big park with a building stuck in the middle,” he said.

The council also gave a nod to Scanlon’s suggestion to relieve the conservancy of obligations to pay for work related to its project but not on its property. Instead, the town will build and maintain a trail that winds through the neighborhood as well as tackle parking, street and sidewalk issues, Scanlon said.

Lofaro said the town’s intended actions not only give money back for the center but also allow the conservancy to plow more money directly into construction of the river center.

“It has the potential to be a double gift,” he said.

The gift is already paying dividends. Lofaro said a major donor contacted the conservancy after hearing of the town’s actions.

“I’ll use (Scanlon’s) words: ‘They’ve broken the logjam for us,’” Lofaro said.

The conservancy also helped itself by listening to community comments to scale down its proposed building and keep the focus on education and monitoring. The size was reduced from 8,400 to 4,500 square feet. It has secured $2.5 million in pledges. Its goal is to raise an additional $3 million.

“We do not have a lead or naming donor yet,” Lofaro said.

The Rocky Mountain Institute will start site-preparation and utility work this fall for its building, where the Taqueria el Nopal restaurant was located. The town’s aid will allow the same work to begin on the conservancy’s site, which was another of Scanlon’s goals.

Lofaro said construction of the river-center building could begin in 2015.