Base Village construction postponed | AspenTimes.com

Base Village construction postponed

Chad Abraham

Construction of various buildings that are pivotal to Base Village is being postponed until next year, Intrawest announced Tuesday.Citing numerous issues, including the rush to get permits after Snowmass Village residents narrowly approved the massive project in February, Michael O’Connor of Intrawest said delaying construction made the most sense.Above-ground construction will begin in the spring of 2006 because of delays related to securing an Army Corps of Engineers permit, according to a news release from the development company. Construction on buildings had been scheduled to begin last spring.Projects that will be delayed for a year include a children’s ski school center, conference space, retail and restaurant space, and condominiums, some of which have already been sold.Intrawest is partnering with the Aspen Skiing Co. in building Base Village, a $400 million project that will bring 1 million square feet of development to Fanny Hill.One of the larger hurdles has been obtaining the permit from the Corps of Engineers. The agency is charged with, among other duties, protecting the nation’s wetlands. At issue has been about a half-acre of wetlands near Snowmass Creek and the amount of water Base Village will need from the creek.In a recent letter to Intrawest, the corps said approval of the permit will be tied to stream flow, said O’Connor, Intrawest’s vice president of development.”We were under the understanding that that would not be the case,” he said.The developers have multiple arguments against having the permit tied to stream flows. O’Connor contended that officials with the town’s water and sanitation district have said there will be plenty of water available to serve the development.But he and Bill Kane, Skico’s vice president of development, also said the corps is overreaching its authority because 404 permits – which deal with wetlands – don’t normally deal with stream-flow depletion issues.”Everyone, including Intrawest and the Aspen Skiing Co., understand what needs to be done with a 404 permit,” O’Connor said. “This is a precedent-setting type of response, quite frankly.”Mark Gilfillan, regulatory project manager at the Army Corps’ Grand Junction office, scoffed at that suggestion.”Oh, I’ve heard those words used and kicked around by a lot of people other than Intrawest, which includes local landowners that don’t like government intervention or the regulatory role of the Clean Water Act,” he said. “Those are personal opinions.”Whenever construction activities are particularly complex or controversial, “the corps can take discretionary authority and elevate any permit to [an] individual standard-type permit – for full review,” Gilfillan said.The corps’ role is to thoroughly develop an environmental assessment and ensure permit decisions are based on sound judgment, he said. “I believe we’re acting fully within our capacity in issuing permits” on Base Village.Gilfillan said he was surprised to hear building construction had been delayed, especially considering that “the corps is close, if not completely done with our project review and ready to issue the [404] permit.”But it wasn’t simply a permitting problem that led to the delay, O’Connor said.”There’s multiple components associated with this, and I think they all go back to when we had an approval back in October of 2004, but we didn’t have a vote until February 3,” he said. “Had we not had a public vote, if this was approved and we were just allowed to move forward, we would have had about six to seven months to prepare for this project.”Unfortunately, what a lot of people did, and we’re as guilty as the next person, is to see what actually would happen with the vote.”Base Village was approved by 55 percent of the voters.O’Connor said there were multiple entities that refused to proceed with reviews and other bureaucratic processes until after the election, and as a result the project stalled.Asked if the actual groundbreaking on the project in April – the ceremonial event was in July – should have been postponed, he said, “We wanted to see this happen and see it happen quickly.” The company aggressively pursued getting all the permits and other paperwork completed, but the effort fell short.David Perry, Skico vice president of marketing, said the company remains committed to the development partnership and to Base Village.”We all said let’s put our shoulder to the wheel and try to make it happen,” he said. “Certainly as some of these permit delays have sort of crept through the summer, we saw time and the construction season melting away.”Jeff Tippett, a former Snowmass Village mayor who led the campaign against Base Village, wondered whether he’d be around to see the project’s completion.”A lot of people believed it would be built in six years. But Intrawest was very careful about saying, ‘Six years is the fastest we can get it done,'” Tippett said, citing the 20-year vestment the developers have to complete Base Village. “There are a lot of us who were born before 1950 who aren’t going to live long enough to see this thing completed.”O’Connor said he wasn’t sure how much the year-long delay will cost. The developers are signing a deal with a contractor this week that will offer 2005 prices.”We have an ‘escalator factor’ built into our economic analysis” to account for added costs, he said. “We’re prepared for escalation and inflation. That’s the best we can do.”Work will continue this fall on new lifts and other on-mountain improvements. The six-passenger, high-speed Village Express lift and a cabriolet “pulse” tram that will transport people between Base Village and the mall are still scheduled to be completed by Nov. 24, the first day of ski season. Also still on schedule is the Elk Camp gondola, which is to open next winter.Excavation on a three-story underground parking structure, construction of another parking lot and other infrastructure work will continue. Intrawest had planned on building a “fair amount” of the parking structure this summer, O’Connor said.But only 35 to 40 construction workers have been working on Base Village this summer, he said, though Intrawest had anticipated having 350 workers during the summer building months.The delay, O’Connor said, “will give everyone the time and the opportunity to put all the approvals, all the permits and everything in place that we need to hit the ground running in April ’06. So that’s what we’re going to be doing.”Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com

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