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Former mayor ties greenhouse reductions to transit

Joel Stonington
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times
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Former Aspen Mayor John Bennett, who spent much of his time in office seeking solutions to Aspen’s transportation problems, expressed disappointment with news that Aspenites pollute the air at twice the level of most Americans. But he was not all that surprised.”I don’t have an easy answer,” he said. “It’s tempting to trot out the usual prescriptions.In my day, in City Hall, we did a lot of things to reduce energy use. We put together a comprehensive energy reduction plan. We did a lot of things in our back yard. Now I look at it these many years later, look at these reports, and realize how immense these problems are.”The Aspen Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory 2004, which was presented Tuesday to the City Council, outlines the problems. Most council members were taken aback by the amount of action needed to resolve the issues raised in the report, which concluded Aspen puts out roughly twice as many greenhouse gas emissions per capita as the national average.

The largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions were tied to air and ground travel, with commercial and private jets leading the pack of polluters.”We’re not as green as we seek to be,” said Councilman Torre. “We know that, that’s why we undertook this project.””We should aim high, but not be disappointed if we don’t achieve it,” Mayor Helen Klanderud said Tuesday.The Entrance to Aspen project, which voters approved during Bennett’s tenure, included a light-rail line to the airport, where commuters could park and board a train into town. It called for two lanes of pavement that cut across the Marolt Open Space to a new bridge over Castle Creek that would have connected directly with Main Street. Bennett, who served from 1991-99, said that plan would have helped some of the transportation numbers. Although voters approved the plan conceptually in the mid-1990s, they later rejected a funding proposal.”Utlimately, Aspen needs a world-class transit system running from one end of the valley to another,” he said. “The day we get that, we’ll do a great deal reducing greenhouse gases.”

He mentioned that many factors coming together may help that along, including increased growth, which puts more people on the road, both in private cars and public transit. Additionally, gasoline and natural gas prices are skyrocketing, and global warming is becoming a more pressing issue. “The era of the two-ton SUV to go to the grocery store and pick up a one-pound loaf of bread may be over,” he said. Bennett said he does not think Aspen could meet the goal of polluting the same as the national average anytime soon.”Working on the jet part of it would take something really radical,” he said. One possible solution to the plane problem has been tossed around for years: a ski train.

“Some kind of high-tech ski train to allow people from Denver and DIA to go the ski area of their choice,” he said. “That, of course, is a tall order.”Bennett doesn’t think it’s impossible. He suggested that visitors might like the idea of getting on an airplane in Boston or New York or Seattle, connecting directly to a luxury train at Denver International Airport and then arriving in any of several ski towns along the route – such as Breckenridge, Vail or Aspen.”Given how absolutely terrible the airline experience from DIA to Aspen has been over the decades, given how many flights are canceled, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t dread the flight, or lack thereof, from Aspen,” he said. But as the ski train idea so clearly illustrates, big problems require big solutions. And City Councilman Jack Johnson, for one, questions how much responsibility Aspen has for much of the emissions. “The four largest things [commercial air traffic, private air traffic, automobiles and electricity production] … we have no power over whatsoever,” he said Tuesday in his initial response to the report. “Can we get to the national average?” Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com


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