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Homeowners lose heat at Highlands

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Homeowners in the Wille Residence at Aspen Highlands Village are using space heaters to keep warm after the heat in their building was shut off late Tuesday afternoon.

“Somebody has gone out and rented a bunch of space heaters and dropped them off on our doorsteps,” said resident Steve Saunders. “They promised that more are coming. I was told they’re going to get two per unit.”

In fact, general contractor Colorado First Construction Co. rented all the space heaters it could find in town yesterday and purchased 13 more at Wal-Mart in Glenwood Springs, according to Steve Elliott, manager for the Wille Residence Homeowners Association.

“They’re jumping right on it,” he said.

Last night, Saunders was preparing to heat his upstairs master bedroom with a small ceramic heater he owns and use the larger one he was handed yesterday to heat the main floor of his three-bedroom condo. His family, including his wife and 18-month-old son, can share a bedroom, he said.

Colorado First built the Wille Residence, where a leak in the heating system was discovered in mid-December. The 13-unit building houses local workers in deed-restricted condos. The new building opened a little more than a year ago.

It appeared the leak was temporarily stopped last week by reducing pressure in the system and introducing a sealant, but it redeveloped with a vengeance on Tuesday, according to Elliott.

The plumbing subcontractor that worked on the building was running tests when the system began losing the mixture of water and propylene glycol (antifreeze) it circulates through pipes at a rapid rate, he said.

“It increased to such a degree that the plumber left the system off,” Elliott said.

The mixture had been disappearing at a rate of about 23 gallons per day before last week’s actions appeared to fix the problem. Yesterday, about two-thirds of a 50-gallon tank of propylene glycol disappeared in less than an hour, he said.

The Wille Residence is heated by a boiler located in the Maroon Creek Station building in the village.

Contractors and consultants trying to pinpoint the leak or leaks tested the main line linking the Maroon Creek Station and the Wille Residence and believed those pipes, buried in the ground, were not the problem.

Now, it appears that line is the source of the leak after all, Elliott said. Colorado First intends to hire an engineer to begin work today on abandoning the line and laying a new one between the buildings, he said.

How long that will take was anybody’s guess yesterday, but company officials indicated they will move quickly to fix the problem, according to Elliott.

Some homeowners, however, are understandably upset, according to Saunders.

“I saw one of my neighbors cuss and curse ? just venting some serious frustration earlier,” he said.

Meanwhile, the city’s environmental health officer is still wondering where hundreds of gallons of the leaking chemical mix went. Sanitation district officials have been consulted to see if a spike in glycol coming into Aspen’s wastewater treatment plant occurred.

The state’s Water Quality Control Division was poised to order the building’s heat shut off nearly two weeks ago, before initial tests indicated the mixture was not leaking from the main line into the ground.

The glycol mixture is not considered hazardous, but the state was concerned from an ecological standpoint, especially given the village’s proximity to Maroon Creek.

While propylene glycol is not toxic, it will consume oxygen as it breaks down in water, which would kill fish, according to Tom Schaffer, the division’s West Slope field office supervisor.


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