Councilman: Drainline will be scrutinized | AspenTimes.com

Councilman: Drainline will be scrutinized

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

How the city of Aspen proceeds with plans to complete an emergency drainline associated with the controversial Castle Creek Energy Center proposal will be under the watchful eye of hydroelectric opponents, Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch said Thursday.

To date, the city has invested about $7 million in the estimated $10.5 million hydro project, which was halted in 2012 when 51 percent of Aspen voters shot it down during an advisory election. The 3,900-foot drainline, which was originally intended to source the hydroelectric plant with water from Thomas Reservoir, is about 91 percent complete, but it is currently capped and inoperable.

On May 27, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources conducted a scheduled inspection, which found the reservoir to be a "significant hazard," meaning significant damage is expected in the event there's a failure of the dam while the reservoir is at the high-water line. To comply with standards, the state recommended that Aspen provide a low-level outlet, and based on that recommendation, the council gave initial support Tuesday to move forward with the estimated $750,000 project, with drainline construction expected in the spring or fall of 2015. The council will formally vote on the decision during an upcoming budget discussion.

"The concern from some of the citizens out there is that this is just a guise to continue to build infrastructure for the hydroplant," Frisch said. "From a safety standpoint, it's something we should do. The hiccup is that it's tied to the whole hydroplant brouhaha from a couple years ago."

"I think it's pretty hard not to follow that recommendation (from the state)," Councilwoman Ann Mullins said Thursday.

She added that council members want to make sure that the drainline project is not construed as an attempt to complete the plant. She said city staff provided a good explanation as to why the drainline is needed as a safety measure, given the property surrounding Castle Creek.

Recommended Stories For You

Frisch said opponents of the plant will no doubt scrutinize the city's interpretation of the inspection report as well as the recommendation. He added that one question will be: Can the drainline be converted into hydroelectric infrastructure?

Dave Hornbacker, Aspen's director of utilities and environmental initiatives, said the drainline would include an energy-dissipation component. When water travels down a hillside, it gains energy from the drop and pressure. An energy-dissipation structure decreases that energy and helps the water merge into the stream without damage.

Frisch said if the plant is ever built, questions will arise about the potential removal of the dissipation technology, which would allow a much more powerful flow into the stream and structure, creating much more energy.

Hornbacher said removal of the dissipation equipment would be a complicated process, "like tearing out a house." Any use of the drainline other than its intended purpose as an emergency outlet would have to be vetted by the council, Hornbacher said.

Attorney Paul Noto, who has represented Saving Our Streams, a local nonprofit and opponent of the plant that sued the city in state water court in September 2011, could not be reached for comment.

herk@aspentimes.com