Castle Creek residents split over Koch guardrail proposal
ASPEN – Some residents along Castle Creek Road want business tycoon Bill Koch to hire a chauffeur to drive him on the twisty mountain route rather than foot the bill for the installation of 6,500 linear feet of guardrails.
But other neighbors contend that Koch’s offer to pay for the safety improvements is a gift that should graciously be accepted.
A handful of residents attended a work session of the Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday so they could weigh in on the issue. The commissioners listened to their comments but decided to visit the site and hold another public meeting before deciding whether to accept Koch’s $300,000 offer.
Bob Rafelson, who has lived in the Castle Creek Valley for 45 years, said guardrails might be beneficial in a few select places along the road, but he cautioned the county against accepting Koch’s full proposal.
“This is not necessarily urbanization, but it’s a step toward it,” Rafelson said.
There traditionally has been a staunch effort by residents of the valley to maintain its rural character, he said. Now, a relatively new resident wants to make changes after getting in an accident, Rafelson said without naming Koch. He said it would be less expensive if the proponent of the guardrails got a chauffeur to drive him around safely.
Bruce Gordon, another 40-plus-year resident of Castle Creek Valley, said the road can be safety negotiated as long as drivers go the posted 35 mph speed limit and follow the advisory signs to go slower around certain curves.
“You need to be following the speed limit, and if you’re not, you’re going to get in trouble,” Gordon said.
But opinions were divided. Elaine Pagels agreed with other speakers that Castle Creek Valley is stunningly beautiful and that the people who live there do so out of love for the valley. But she contended that the special setting won’t be altered by adding guardrails.
“If this could save some lives, it would be a gift,” Pagels said, who has lived in Castle Creek Valley for more than 30 years.
Longtime resident Dick Butera said the guardrails are necessary to prevent someone from getting killed.
Koch, an industrialist whose holdings include coal mines near Paonia, has established a nonprofit group called Citizens of Castle Creek to promote the guardrail proposal. Engineering consultant Tom Newland and land-use planning consultant Glenn Horn represent Koch’s nonprofit group. They explained to the county commissioners that a detailed study was done to determine where to propose guardrails. The criteria included features of the road such as curves and the length of a fall down an embankment if a vehicle were to go off the road. The study assumed that any fall of more than 30 feet would be fatal, Horn said.
The study concluded that there are eight “no-brainer locations” for guardrails – places where they are clearly necessary for safety, according to Horn. Two of those spots are below the turn off for Conundrum Creek, about five miles upvalley. The other six are above the turn off for Conundrum. The longest proposed guardrail would be a stretch with a steep embankment down to the creek, about one mile below the turn off for Little Annie Road. That stretch of guardrail would be 910 feet long, according to the proposal.
Guardrails were also proposed in six other locations, which Horn and Newland did not deem quite as critical.
Two county commissioners expressed some skepticism of the proposal but reserved a decision.
“I’m not a fan of guardrails,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield. He said he wanted to visit the sites where the guardrails are proposed to determine whether they are absolutely necessary. He noted that Koch’s nonprofit initially proposed 12,000 feet of guardrails before paring down the proposal after talking to residents and visitors of the valley.
“When you start at 12,000 and it goes to 6,000, it makes me wonder, can it be 3,000? I don’t know,” Hatfield said.
Commissioner Rachel Richards said she is concerned about creating the “Balkanization” of county roads – where neighborhoods that have a wealthy resident willing to pay for safety improvements get better roads than other neighborhoods. She said she would rather see Koch’s nonprofit working for improvements throughout the county road system.
Under questioning by the commissioners, Horn and Newland said Koch and his wife are the only members of the board of directors of Citizens of Castle Creek. “At least there’s two (of them) to get the ‘s’ in the ‘Citizens,'” Hatfield quipped.
Commissioner chairman Michael Owsley said he wanted to hold another public meeting after the site visit to allow all residents another opportunity to express their view. No date was set for the visit to Castle Creek Road, but the public meeting will get plenty of advance notice, county officials said.
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