Give the people what they want in hydro
Ward Hauenstein and I sponsored the petition to overturn rezoning for the Castle Creek hydro project because we believed that the city of Aspen was refusing to entertain the concerns of the public. Those concerns related to project costs, potential environmental impacts and the process the city has pursued in driving the project.
There are few ways in which the public can affect the course of a project it believes is ill-advised. Invalidating the rezoning was one way. When the opportunity presented itself, we accepted the challenge. The law allowed only three weeks over the Christmas and New Year holidays (after about a week of organizational time and obtaining the city clerk’s approval of the petition language) to gather sufficient signatures. A collaboration of approximately 50 fellow Aspen residents who circulated petitions and the 953 who signed the petition got the job done.
We believe that such an overwhelming response from residents in such a short time, when their lives were filled with distractions, sends a strong message to City Hall that the people want to vote on the ordinance. The people deserve to get what they have demanded.
Now that the petition is valid, the City Council can decide whether to heed the people’s message or resort to excuses for ignoring the people. We believe it is as simple a question as that. One might expect that a City Council that is interested in measuring public sentiment about an important but controversial project would welcome an opportunity to receive such feedback through the best possible means – an election – as soon as possible. One might expect public officials would welcome the guidance from such an election so that they know whether the people support the project.
Instead, members of the City Council have whined about the cost of a special election (a mere $16,000 compared with the millions of dollars wasted on the hydro project with more millions to come); about the possibility of a low turnout (while also claiming that the low turnout at the bond election was a mandate to build the hydro plant); and about a need for further time to educate the public (when the city has been flashing its sunshine about the project for at least four years). We believe these are only excuses to justify denying the public what it has demanded: an election in the spring on the hydro project. Excuses to avoid receiving another message from the people (I am not listening; I am not listening).
The mayor has suggested that the City Council might place a “more general” measure about the hydro project on the November ballot. We think that would be a good idea, but only if it means a binding up or down vote on whether the project should be completed. The mayor’s vague suggestion was not accompanied by specific, proposed language. We do not oppose such an up or down vote in November, but do not see it as a substitute for a special election in the spring to gauge the public view of the hydro project. The city ought to find out as soon as possible whether the citizens support the project so that the city can either proceed wasting more money with public approval, or whether it should stop the madness now.
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