Basalt wants to secede from Eagle County
Basalt Town Council members are mad as hell at Eagle County government and they’re not going to take it any more.
The council is heading an insurrection they hope spreads among midvalley citizens and leads to succession from Eagle County.
The rebel leader at an impromptu board discussion late Tuesday night was Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt. She groused that the town’s regional planning efforts work well with Pitkin County, but face numerous obstacles with Eagle County.
Whitsitt claimed that Eagle County officials have such a different philosophy on major issues than residents of the mid-Roaring Fork Valley that prospects for regional cooperation are dim.
“We’re talking about two totally different cultures here,” Whitsitt said.
Several council members expressed dissatisfaction with Eagle County government (see related story).
`They might be sick of us’
At the end of the council’s regular meeting Tuesday night, Whitsitt proposed that the town investigate creating a new county with other valley jurisdictions.
Another option might be redrawing county lines to put the midvalley in Pitkin rather than Eagle County, she said.
Her proposal was supported 6-0 with one member absent.
“They might be sick enough of us that they’ll say go for it,” said Mayor Rick Stevens.
They might, indeed. “I would actually welcome the study,” said Eagle County Commissioner James Johnson.
“A lot of times, it’s difficult for politicians to give up power,” but if a study showed some type of change would benefit midvalley residents, it should be done, he said.
Johnson said he couldn’t predict how Eagle County government would react to Basalt’s direction, though citizen involvement will likely be key.
“I think if they rally the support of the citizens, the county would be hard-pressed not to participate in a study.”
He acknowledged that at least some Roaring Fork Valley residents living in Eagle County perceive that they aren’t well represented.
A far-flung appendage
Eagle, the county seat where county government meetings take place, is about 60 miles from Basalt. Eagle County includes part of Basalt and the lower Fryingpan Valley, part of Missouri Heights, and the El Jebel area to just downvalley from Blue Lake subdivision.
An estimated 6,000 residents live in the Roaring Fork sliver of Eagle County, roughly one-fifth of the county’s total population.
Even if someone from this side of the county was able to win election as an Eagle County commissioner, one person couldn’t change that government’s direction, said Whitsitt. She unsuccessfully ran against Gypsum resident Tom Stone for a commissioner seat last November.
Geopolitical factors compound Basalt’s woes. The town is divided between two counties. The line places 7-Eleven and the major population center of Elk Run in Pitkin County. But downtown, the Hill District and West Basalt are in Eagle County.
County policies dictate what gets developed on the town’s fringes. That’s been a major source of friction between Eagle County and Basalt officials in the El Jebel area.
Citizens will determine fate
Like Johnson, Basalt officials feel citizen involvement is key to the success or failure of the effort to adjust county lines. There’s been talk for years of creating a new county, often dubbed Sopris County, but it’s been just that – talk.
“It’s got to come from the citizens, it can’t come from this board,” Stevens said of the effort in general.
He said he feels he made his best efforts over the years to coax cooperation from Eagle County officials on regional governing issues – without much luck.
“Based on where we’ve been before, they don’t listen to us,” Stevens said. “It’s got to be a citizen thing. Elected officials aren’t getting it done.”
Councilman Leroy Duroux said he doesn’t think the town of Basalt has credibility with residents of the El Jebel area.
“People down the road resent Basalt trying to guide their lives,” he said. If those citizens aren’t behind an effort to get out of Eagle County, the effort “will go down the tubes,” he said.
But Councilwoman Anne Freedman argued that somebody has to take “lead planning” to get the effort under way. That’s the role she supported for the board.
Councilman Chris Lane also said the council should lead the effort and start the study. Even if it doesn’t lead to adjusting county lines, it could force greater cooperation from Eagle County, he said.
Councilman Steve Solomon said one part of the study should explore what type of legislation is necessary to adjust county lines.
As the Colorado constitution is written now, all state residents must vote on a change to county lines. Solomon wants Basalt to lobby for legislation that would allow affected residents to determine their own fate.
“I think there is merit for turning Jacque loose on this issue,” Solomon said.
Whitsitt said she is anxious to hear from midvalley residents about the proposal to redraw county lines. She will welcome telephone calls at 927-2414.
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