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Base Village angst increasing

Chad Abraham

The mayor of Snowmass Village sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last month imploring the agency to hurry its review of an appeal by the developers of Base Village.Doug Mercatoris’ letter to Brig. Gen. Joseph Schroedel, head of the corps’ South Pacific division, which includes Colorado, mentions that the town has “a very short construction season.”The letter is a sign of Snowmass Village officials’ growing anxiety over a requisite corps permit that has already delayed construction of the massive development by a year.Councilman John Wilkinson suggested he was unhappy with the way the construction delay has been presented.”I don’t think we’ve been entirely briefed on the implications,” Wilkinson said. “It’s been more of a rumor.”More disconcerting “is that the [Elk Camp] gondola isn’t going to go in unless they get the [permit]. That concerns me greatly,” he said. “That is a real problem because the gondola has to happen.”This winter, Snowmass Ski Area has had to operate with less ski lift capacity because of the removal of the Wood Run lift, Mercatoris said in his letter.”We must begin construction of a new gondola this spring in order to correct this deficiency, and that cannot happen without resolution of the … permit appeal,” he wrote.Intrawest and the Skico announced the construction postponement in September. Other areas the delay affected include retail and restaurant space, a conference center, a children’s ski school and condominiums. Some of the condos have already sold.After Monday’s Town Council meeting, Mercatoris said the town is worried about the permit issue again affecting construction. But he toned down his concerns about the gondola.”Every indication is that we are going to have the gondola installed and operating for next ski season,” he said. “I don’t think [the permit issue] is going to affect it.”Intrawest and the Aspen Skiing Co. – developers of Base Village, which voters approved in 2005 – have the necessary permit. But the companies have not agreed to some of the permit’s conditions relating to streamflow in Brush Creek and water depletion in the Roaring Fork drainage and Colorado River basin.”I am not presuming to tell the Army Corps of Engineers how to resolve the appeal and the disagreement,” Mercatoris said. “But it needs to be done quickly so it will not affect this building season.”Under the town’s approval, construction is to last from April to November.Intrawest officials contend that the delay will not affect the anticipated completion of Base Village in 2012.A project manager in the corps’ Grand Junction office recently said he would not discuss the nature of the permit disagreement. Michael O’Connor, Intrawest’s vice president of development, did not return a message Tuesday.But Mercatoris said he believes the disagreement is over the developers’ long-term responsibility for Brush Creek.”It’s a fairly unusual condition” that the corps is requiring, he said. “They are asking the Brush Creek partnership to be responsible for future depletion in the Colorado River basin even if they are not responsible for it. Which seems somewhat unusual and maybe not reasonable.”Mercatoris presented a scenario in which, years from now, “The Town Council is completely out of their minds, and so are the developers. And somebody wants to build a 30-story tower in place of the Top of Village condos … and house 10,000 people, and that depletes the water in the Colorado River – Intrawest is now responsible because they said they would accept that condition.”O’Connor told the council that Intrawest and Skico can’t control how quickly the Corps of Engineers reviews the appeal, which originally was handled in the Grand Junction office. It is now at a regional division in San Francisco that oversees several Western states. No developer in recent memory in western Colorado has gone so high up the bureaucratic chain of command to appeal a corps decision, a corps project manager said in December.”It is troubling,” Wilkinson said.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com


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