County, Skico continue war over road work
It’s been a year since construction of the Sundeck Restaurant atop Aspen Mountain was completed.
But the on-and-off war of words that’s been under way for more than two years between Pitkin County and the Aspen Skiing Company is on again.
Representatives from the county road department and the Skico are expected to face off Wednesday afternoon in front of the county commissioners, hoping to settle the question of who should pay for asphalt repairs on Castle Creek Road.
The county says the $132,000 tab should be paid in full by the Skico. After all, the road wouldn’t be needing any repairs if the company hadn’t used the backside of Aspen Mountain as a primary access for cement trucks, dump trucks and other heavy vehicles.
“Traffic volumes declined significantly after the Sundeck was done, especially the volume of heavy trucks,” said Brian Pettet, who runs the county road department.
Pettet said the county had no plans for any major work on Castle Creek Road until 2014, when a $2 million resurfacing project is scheduled. But because of the wear and tear during construction, the road department believes rehabilitation between Highway 82 and the intersection with Little Annie Road is needed.
“It’s not as if the company is being asked to rebuild the entire road,” Pettet said. “I think staff believes 6 percent of the total cost of the road is not a large amount for the company to contribute.”
The Skico doesn’t agree. Bill Kane, the company’s top planner, answered the road department’s decision to bill the entire project to the Skico with a three-page letter of protest.
“The Sundeck Restaurant represents only a fraction of the construction activity using Castle Creek Road during the summer of 1999,” it says.
Kane’s letter points out that trucks and other vehicles reached the site via Summer Road, which switchbacks from downtown Aspen up the front side of the mountain, and that materials were also ferried to the top via the gondola and snowcats. “We estimate less than 52 percent of total construction vehicle usage accessed the project via Castle Creek Road.”
Kane said yesterday it appears that, in 1999, approximately 30,000 square feet of residential construction was under way up Castle Creek above Little Annie Road.
“Those projects generated some of the heavy truck traffic up and down the road that summer,” Kane said.
The company also maintains that it had little or no warning that it would be assessed a “fine” for its use of Castle Creek Road. If it had known of the pending $132,000 charge, Kane said the Skico may have altered the way it moved equipment and materials to the site.
His letter indicates the Skico assumed its obligations for road repairs were limited mostly to Little Annie Road, the dirt road up the backside of Aspen Mountain that was graded and graveled to make it passable for heavy trucks.
“During approval and construction of the restaurant, few concerns were addressed in regard to the condition and use of Castle Creek Road,” Kane wrote. “The focus of mitigation and restoration was always on Little Annie Road.”
That mitigation included weed control, road drainage, road reclamation, debris removal and revegetation on Little Annie Road.
But Pettet maintains the county has always insisted the company cover the cost of any repairs to Castle Creek Road that are a result of the Sundeck traffic. Proof, he said, can be found in the $132,000 bond that the Skico set aside in 1998 to guarantee that county taxpayers would not be stuck paying for construction-related damages to Castle Creek Road.
The heart of the dispute lies in competing interpretations of events leading up to the Sundeck project.
Kane points out that the county took no measurements of the road’s condition prior to construction. Thus, the Skico questions the post-construction assessment that it is responsible for 100 percent of the degradation. “We feel this is an abuse of administrative authority by the staff and should not be sustained by the BOCC,” he wrote.
Kane said the company is willing to pay for some of the repairs. “What we’re saying is that rather than assigning all of the costs to the company, let’s take a more realistic approach based on all of the activity on the road,” he said.
However, when the county commissioners agreed to the early opening of Little Annie Road in the spring of 1999 to accommodate the Skico’s time line, Pettet said it became impossible to conduct the tests necessary to establish the baseline information now demanded by the company.
Pettet pointed out that the $132,000 investment could add as many as four years to the life of the road. And he said the county doesn’t have the money to pay for the rehabilitation itself. “Without the Skico’s money, this project won’t get done,” he said.
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