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City takes heat for streets work

Janet Urquhart

It’s not often that the Aspen streets department takes heat for fixing the roads, but recent repairs on two streets proved more painful than the potholes for the road’s residents.

In fact, the streets department plans to mail letters of apology to the affected residents along Cemetery Lane and McSkimming Road, said Jack Reid, the city’s superintendent of streets.

“I’m going to apologize for the inconvenience and the problems that we caused,” he said yesterday.

The city tried out a new process for refurbishing pavement, contracting with a Colorado Springs company to recycle the existing asphalt on both streets. The process requires a long train of equipment that heats the asphalt to 300 degrees, making it malleable so it can been resmoothed.

Recycling asphalt costs about a third as much as repaving a street, Reid said. McSkimming and Cemetery Lane were likely candidates to give the process a try because they didn’t really need a new overlay of asphalt, just a refurbishing, he said.

The heat required in the operation, however, damaged trees along the edge of the streets. In addition, because of the narrow, winding nature of McSkimming Road, the street had to be closed off completely, as there was not room to divert traffic around the equipment.

Given the impacts, Reid said he doesn’t plan to use the operation again.

“Now they know it was a bad idea, but it’s too late,” said McSkimming Road resident Edie Wombwell, one of numerous residents who were dismayed by the damage to the trees.

“Some of these are really dead. It’s a wonder they didn’t start a forest fire up here,” she said.

Damaged trees that stabilize the embankment along the top of McSkimming, a steep, twisting road east of Aspen, concern Wombwell the most. “It would be nice if they would replace a few up there,” she said.

Her neighbor, Ricki McHugh, agrees. She estimated 30 to 40 saplings that are helping hold the hill in place appear dead.

McHugh also questioned why the “tree-burning operation” was continued on McSkimming after it damaged trees on Cemetery Lane.

“If they knew their machines were burning trees, I really don’t know why they had to do it again,” she said.

Donna Rowlands, a resident of the Cemetery Lane neighborhood, noted in a letter to the editor earlier this week that a private citizen who cuts down a tree must obtain a permit and pay “an exorbitant fee.”

“How much would it cost me to destroy five blue spruce, eight pines, eight aspens, five large bushes and two trees of unknown species?” asked Rowlands in a letter originally addressed to City Manager Steve Barwick.

The damaged trees along Cemetery Lane have already been pruned by a parks department crew. The city will contract with a private firm to do similar work on McSkimming Road, according to Stephen Ellsperman, the city’s natural resources manager.

“I don’t think any trees will need to be replaced at all,” he said.

There are some trees along McSkimming Road that did not survive, including young aspens and serviceberry, Ellsperman said, but surrounding vegetation will fill in quickly, he predicted.

“If you go back next year, or even later this year, you won’t be able to tell the work was ever done,” said Ellsperman. “I know it looks pretty harsh right now, but the fact is that most of the damage was done to young vegetation. It will revegetate.”

None of the trees that were killed on McSkimming were of a size that would result in sanctions, had a private landowner cut them down, he added.

Reid said he decided to give the recycling operation a try in Aspen after observing it first-hand in Silverthorne. “It’s quite a remarkable process, really,” he said.

However, Reid said he watched the operation in a wide open area, where the side effects were negligible. The process is not, he now knows, well suited to most of Aspen’s streets, especially roads like McSkimming, which is narrow and tightly crowded with trees and bushes.

It is also a long walk to the top for residents who were denied vehicular or bus access to their homes during the operation.

Wombwell said she trudged up to her home near the top of the road with a load of groceries.

“It was definitely an inconvenience to the residents – there’s no question,” Reid conceded.


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