Enron debacle could leave ACES in lurch

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies is hoping to get a scheduled $110,000 payment from the Linda and Ken Lay Family Foundation this month.

But it is not clear if a check will come.

The family foundation of former Enron chairman and CEO Ken Lay missed a $500,000 payment to a Washington, D.C., think tank in January, according to the Wall Street Journal. And the Lay Family Foundation is likely feeling pinched, as all but $4 million of the foundation’s $52.5 million in 2000 were in Enron stock.

There were at least $5 million in pledges on the foundation’s books through 2005, including a $300,000 pledge to the Aspen Music Festival and School, according to the Journal. Officials of the Music Festival and School could not be reached to discuss the pledge.

The foundation money pledged to ACES is to go toward converting a horse barn and a caretaker building into a center for field studies and education at ACE’s 115-acre Rock Bottom Ranch. The property is along the Roaring Fork River in the midvalley.

The foundation pledged a total of $550,000 and made the first of five $110,000 payments last year. The second payment is due this month, said Tom Cardamone, ACES executive director.

“We were in touch with them last fall,” he said. “Through our annual audit, everybody that has made a pledge gets contacted and reminded about their pledge. And they got their reminder.”

The Rock Bottom Ranch was purchased in 1999 by ACES for $2.5 million and the property has been fully paid for. If the Lay Family Foundation payment doesn’t arrive, it would slow down the new building.

“If there were to be a problem, which given the circumstances is a possibility, we’d have to regroup and figure out how to do the building,” Cardamone said.

In January, the foundation failed to make its second $500,000 payment to the Resources for the Future think tank in Washington, to which it has pledged a total of $2 million to fund a research position, the Journal reported.

Last week, Ken Lay resigned from the think tank’s board and from the board of Howard University. He also sold his share of the new Houston Texans football team and is selling homes in Houston, Galveston and Aspen, where he owns three homes and a piece of property, worth $19 million.

The Lay Family Foundation has given millions of dollars to nonprofit organizations over the past 20 years, including to the University of Houston and Rice University, which is still expecting a $1 million payment on a pledge to come in this summer.

The Lays have been supporters of ACES for at least 10 years, said Cardamone, in part because a Lay family home is across the Roaring Fork River from the environmental preserve.

“They are neighbors,” said Cardamone, who said the Lays gave in the $5,000 to $10,000 range on an annual basis.

Cardamone said ACES has not contacted the Lay Family Foundation since October, when he said all indications were that the next $110,000 payment was coming.

“It’s scheduled to come this month,” Cardamone said.