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Eagle County needs to shape up or (we’ll) ship out

The Aspen Times Editorial

It’s too early to tell yet if the Basalt Town Council’s desire to shift the midvalley out of Eagle County’s hands is a good idea or not, but this much is clear – something different needs to be done.

It may irk the Eagle County commissioners to hear this, but they are simply out of touch with the people on this side of the mountain.

Part of the problem is simply geography. The Roaring Fork Valley sliver is to Eagle County what Redstone is to Pitkin County or Marble is to Gunnison County – essentially a bastard stepchild.

County officials probably want about as little to do with these far-off appendages as residents of those areas want to do with them.

In the case of Eagle County, officials sitting 60 miles away at the county seat in Eagle are supposed to represent people in the Basalt-El Jebel area. Even if county officials attempted to stay in better touch with Roaring Fork residents, effective representation would be difficult.

That’s because a great deal of the problem is philosophical. There’s considerable truth in Basalt Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt’s assertion that there are different mindsets “over here” and “over there.” The Eagle County commissioners, as a whole, aren’t as concerned about controlling growth as the average midvalley citizen. Deserved or not, Eagle County is perceived over here as willing to approve anything and everything.

On top of that, they are willing to compromise more on quality of life issues. The recent discussions about the Highway 82 intersections between Blue Lake and Willits are a perfect demonstration of that difference between “over here” and “over there.”

Eagle County seems to have decided that “service level ‘D'” is acceptable for those intersections. In any case, the county has hired a consultant specifically to research what improvements will be needed to get those intersections up to service level “D” once the area is built out.

“D” in this case is exactly what it would seem to be: barely passing, just like in school. That’s the standard that the Eagle County commissioners have established for intersections such as the one at the El Jebel stoplight. How that standard was set is beyond our comprehension.

It might be perfectly acceptable for Eagle County to design intersections in the Eagle Valley to operate at a service level “D,” but it is unacceptable in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The county commissioners have been approving projects that add traffic to the El Jebel intersection for years, without meaningful improvements. Across the way, City Market and Orchard Plaza have overburdened the intersection of Valley Road and Highway 82 – again with no meaningful improvements required by Eagle County.

The county commissioners continue to approve urban-style development in unincorporated Roaring Fork Valley – flawed thinking in itself – yet they are unwilling to require the infrastructure that urban-style development requires.

That situation alone warrants further study of the Town Council’s idea to redraw county lines. We agree with the council’s decision to forge ahead with a study to see how and if county lines should be adjusted.

We hope that Eagle and Pitkin counties contribute to that study. If it turns out there are no hidden costs to residents of the Roaring Fork portion of Eagle County, the change may very well be the best move for all involved.

However midvalley residents feel about the issue, we encourage them to get in touch with Basalt or Eagle County officials. The Basalt Town Council made it clear the idea will go nowhere if citizens show no interest.


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