City ponders storm-water fees |

City ponders storm-water fees

A surcharge on water rates and new impact fees on development to pay the cost of cleaning up storm-water runoff won a tentative nod of endorsement among City Council members Tuesday, but formation of a storm-water utility did not.

The council reviewed several options for improving the city’s handling of runoff, produced by melting snow and rains. Some of Aspen’s storm water currently flows through town and directly into the Roaring Fork River, dumping sediments, garbage and other pollutants into the waterway.

A full-blown treatment plan, with collection ponds, wetlands and other improvements at Rio Grande and Jenny Adair parks to filter storm water, along with other projects, would cost an estimated $6.1 million. Annual operations, including maintenance of the system and improvements to expand the city’s storm-water collection system, would cost an estimated $712,000, according to Paul Menter, city finance director.

“This is a big project. This is a lot of money. This is a major deal,” he said. “What we’re suggesting is the city move forward and ask the voters if they want to form a new storm-water utility.”

The utility charges would pay the debt to construct the improvements and fund the operating costs.

Several council members, however, expressed reluctance to forming a new utility and instead advocated a surcharge on water rates billed by Aspen’s existing water utility. That, too, is an option, said City Manager Steve Barwick.

Borrowing money to make storm-water system improvements, however, would still require voter approval.

The council also wasn’t certain whether to move forward with the full-blown plan or a scaled-back option that entails just construction of the collection system at the two parks at an estimated cost of $4.9 million. That step alone would divert an estimated 300 cubic yards of sediment annually, according to Nick Adeh, city engineer.

The improvements focus on the Aspen Mountain drainage basin, the priority among six drainage basins that send runoff through the city, Adeh said.

City staffers also presented various rate structures for a storm-water utility, including options to divvy up the costs equally within the district, charging consumers within the Aspen Mountain basin most of the cost of the capital improvements, or charging all of the upgrades to consumers in the basin.

The full-fledged treatment proposal, with 70/30 percent rate split, would mean an average annual cost of $192 per household within the Aspen Mountain drainage, Menter said. Households in the other five basins (Smuggler, Red Mountain, Highlands, Tiehack and Red Butte) would see an average annual cost of $127, he said.

The scaled-back plan, with just improvements at the two parks, would result in annual average costs per household of $68 and $43, respectively, Menter said.

A third treatment option – make no improvements, but continue to sweep the streets, clean culverts and take other status-quo steps – would entail little additional cost.

The city had anticipated it would be ordered to take steps to clean up its urban runoff under the Clean Water Act in the next few years, but the federal government under the current administration seems to have backed off on that push, according to Lee Cassin, the city’s director of environmental health.

Some council members, however, appeared loath to do nothing more to deal with runoff even if the city isn’t being forced to do something.

“I think the objectives and goals we’re trying to accomplish [are] outstanding. It’s exactly what we should be striving for,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud.

“It’s time to walk the walk and not just talk the talk,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards. “I’d like to, as a community, move toward the higher standard.

“As we move into the future, we need to clean up our act in any number of areas.”

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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