Basalt, Pitkin County officials working out a kink at whitewater park
November 25, 2016
Pitkin County and Basalt officials agree that additional work should be performed to create viable access to a whitewater park being constructed along the Roaring Fork River, they just disagree on how to pay for it.
Pitkin County launched a $770,000 project in September to add "wave features" to the Roaring Fork River across Two Rivers Road from the Elk Run subdivision. A contractor diverted the main channel of the river this fall and is installing natural and man-made components that will create the waves once the channel is restored.
The waves are expected to draw kayakers, paddleboarders, rafters and tubers. Similar features in the Arkansas River have been a huge attraction in downtown Salida. The Basalt features won't be as challenging as the Glenwood wave on the Colorado River.
The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams program took the initiative on the project. It not only creates wave features that could be a popular draw, but it allows Pitkin County to secure water rights for recreation.
“Are we being hot boxed into making a $25,000 decision?”
— Councilman Auden Schendler
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That stretch of river often suffers low water levels due to diversions. Establishing the whitewater park could prevent further diversions and provide more water, through a junior water right, when it is available, county officials explained when the project was approved last summer.
Heavy equipment has been working in the river channel for about the past 10 weeks. A proposed addition to the plan was brought to the Basalt Town Council on Tuesday. It doesn't require additional approval, just money.
The county fears that the north bank of the river will slough off onto a narrow path that will lead from Two Rivers Road down to the water. The contractor proposed stabilizing the bank by using a terrace of boulder. That also would allow the trail to be widened to 6 to 10 feet from the current plan for 4 to 5 feet.
"The increased width would allow folks to pass each other on the pathway, linger and provide a more park-like setting," said a memo to the Town Council from Town Planning Director Susan Philp.
The work is estimated to cost $44,000. Pitkin County asked Basalt to shell out half.
The town's Parks Open Space and Trails board recommended spending the money. The funds are available from a sales tax dedicated to open space and trails.
However, the council balked at approving the expenditure Tuesday night. Board members were slightly miffed that they were told a decision was needed immediately because of the way the work is progressing. Stabilizing the bank and widening the path will cost more if delayed because of some other work that must be performed.
"Are we being hot boxed into making a $25,000 decision?" Councilman Auden Schendler asked.
"This does feel like kind of a quick deal," Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said. She noted that Pitkin County had committed to perform all safety measures when the Basalt council approved the project earlier this year.
Councilman Mark Kittle said the bank stabilization is a necessary step because the bank is so steep that it will undoubtedly slough onto the trail in the future if not addressed. He said that work should have been in the county's original plan.
"It should have been figured out to begin with," Kittle said.
Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle said she is a whitewater enthusiast and supported the proposed additional work but felt "painted into a corner" with the timing of the request.
Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer asked if Pitkin County would foot the entire bill for the additional work.
Philp said it was doubtful. The county wants the town to pay half.
The council held firm. Whitsitt noted that the council slashed spending for 2017 to balance the budget and restore a reserve.
"We have regrouped on how we spend money," she said.
The council voted 6-0 to direct Philp to return to the county and its contractor to express that the town supports the additional work but wants the county to pay for it. Whitsitt and Kittle volunteered to accompany her in a meeting with county officials to help explain the position. The timing of that meeting was uncertain because of the holiday weekend.