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Developers, start your engines

Chad Abraham

Construction workers, grab your hard hats and start your concrete trucks.A decision the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released Thursday clears the way for construction to begin on the $400 million Base Village development when Snowmass Ski Area closes April 16. Construction was delayed in September because of a fight between developer Intrawest and the federal agency that oversees water issues related to a wetlands permit.The Army Corps of Engineers ruled that Intrawest and the Aspen Skiing Co. are not responsible for monitoring or mitigating effects to the creek that will provide water for the massive project.Base Village “does not directly affect Snowmass Creek,” a corps news release says. “Water diversions from the creek will continue whether or not this permit is issued, and the direct effects of those water diversions are being evaluated in association with a different corps permit” that relates to a diversion structure on the creek.The structure belongs to the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District. Kit Hamby, the district’s executive director, said he was “very surprised” corps regulators do not believe Base Village will affect Snowmass Creek. He did not elaborate. The development at Fanny Hill will add 1 million square feet of retail and restaurant space, a new gondola, homes, a children’s ski school, a conference center and other infrastructure.But the water district’s position all along has been that there will be enough water when Base Village is finished and occupied, Hamby said.”There will be an additional depletion of Snowmass Creek, but I think it will be within the limits of our permit,” he said.Intrawest, the nation’s largest resort developer, had contended the Corps of Engineers was overstepping its authority when it imposed a streamflow condition in the permit.The agency wanted Intrawest to agree to build a four-mile pipeline to replace water if it went beyond its allotment at any point in the future. The company contended that it did not have the authority to construct such a pipeline because it is not the senior water rights holder; the water district has that distinction.So Intrawest appealed that condition to the corps’ South Pacific division, a move that held up the permit and resulted in the construction delay.The corps ultimately agreed with the developers – “That’s why the permit condition went away,” said Skico senior vice president Dave Bellack.But the agency’s lengthy review of the condition and the appeal nearly cost Intrawest another construction season. Snowmass Village Mayor Doug Mercatoris in February requested the corps speed its decision because of the town’s limited construction season.The decision is wonderful for Snowmass Village’s coming “renaissance,” he said Thursday.Intrawest and Skico officials have also told the town “that they’re going to be able to catch up on lost ground and that Base Village will be completed on schedule,” Mercatoris said. “The sooner we get the construction impacts behind us and end up with a great product, the better off the community will be.”I don’t know why, but I always had faith that reasonable people in the end would put this issue to rest,” he said.The developers will mitigate damage to about a half-acre of wetlands, by a 2-to-1 margin, by paying into a wetlands mitigation bank. Intrawest and the Skico had already agreed to this condition.As part of the permit, the companies also agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recovery plan for endangered fish in the upper Colorado River basin.”We didn’t have to pay any money toward that plan because our wetlands impacts were so small,” Bellack said.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com


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