County mulls aid for Pitkin Iron homeowners |

County mulls aid for Pitkin Iron homeowners

Janet UrquhartThe Aspen TimesAspen CO Colorado
Scott Condon The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Pitkin County commissioners hinted at a willingness Tuesday to assist homeowners in the Pitkin Iron worker housing complex with mounting costs associated with septic and water system woes that have plagued the development virtually since its residents moved in.Ted Schuster, president of the homeowners’ association for the 15-unit collection of residences located in unincorporated Pitkin County, gave commissioners a $180,000 estimate for needed repairs to two failing leach fields plus completed repairs to a third one. Engineering costs are also part of the sum. Homeowners are struggling with debt from water and septic issues that began when the first buyers into the project moved in 2001, plus legal bills stemming from two lawsuits they pursued in response to the problems, Schuster said.”I do feel, as an HOA, we’ve incurred quite a bit of expense here – expense we will never recoup,” he said.The homeowners asked the county for help in 2009, but hadn’t followed up on the request until now.Commissioners previously rejected any notion of paying the homeowners’ legal expenses related to the lawsuits, Commissioner Rachel Richards noted, but the elected officials suggested they may be willing to share in some of the costs.”It’s not how much we’re going to pay, but how much we’ll consider contributing,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield.The price of owning a home includes ongoing repairs, said Commissioner George Newman, but he acknowledged the owners of worker housing see their residences appreciate at a capped rate.”I’m not going to be picking up all your bills – there is a cost to home ownership,” he said.Commissioners directed Schuster to come up with a more detailed summation of the expenses for which he is requesting help, and Commissioner Michael Owsley called for a closed-door meeting to discuss how much the county is to blame for what happened at Pitkin Iron.”To me, it’s important to connect some action the county did to why we should help out,” Hatfield said.The county at one time owned the property, downvalley from Woody Creek. The worker housing is located on a shelf of land below Highway 82, situated above the Roaring Fork River. Four free-market lots on the far side of the river were created as part of the project, to help finance the worker housing. The county chose a developer, S & S Development, to build the worker housing, and was repaid its land costs as part of the deal.Residents quickly discovered the well serving the development yielded such hard water that it was damaging plumbing and appliances. They split the cost of a water-softening system with the developers, but then discovered the salt produced by the system was damaging the six septic leach fields serving the housingThey ultimately sued S & S and its partners, Tim Semrau (who would later serve as an Aspen city councilman) and Larry Saliterman, as well as their water engineers. A new well was drilled across the river and a pipeline, attached to the old Pitkin Iron footbridge spanning the river, now serves the homes. The suit was dismissed with the resolution of the water problem, though the pipeline has had issues with freezing, according to the homeowners.They also sued the firm that recommended the soft-water system, but the suit was dismissed without a settlement in their favor.The salt forced the homeowners to repair a failed leach field; two others are now nearing failure, Schuster said.The homeowners alleged the county failed to require the housing’s developers to obtain the proper state review for the community water system that served Pitkin Iron at the outset and which is at the root of all the problems.”I believe that is factual,” said Carla Ostberg, county environmental health manager, regarding the state approval.”There was no culpability that was demonstrated on the part of the county,” clarified John Ely, county attorney.The hardness of the water, in essence its mineral content, is not a health issue and would not have caused the state to reject the water system, added Jon Peacock, county manager.The difficulties and costs homeowners have endured over the past decade are, however, significant, suggested Richards, who appeared to be sympathetic to their plight.”They bought this as a brand new product and it was defective,” she

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