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Illegal decks draw prominent foe

A prominent midvalley conservation group is calling for the removal of an elaborate network of decks and gazebos from the bank of the Roaring Fork River.

The Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy is concerned that the streamside development on River Run Ranch in Emma could have a detrimental effect on wildlife and the environment.

“It’s a pretty special section of the river, and when people drove that stretch and saw the development, there was quite a reaction,” said Jeanne Beaudry, executive director of the conservancy. “When anybody does development close to the river, it’s a highly-visible site; you’ll start getting calls.”

Beaudry said the conservancy is concerned because there is an eagle roosting site on a neighboring parcel of land. Human activity could scare off the eagles, she said.

The decks, gazebos and stairs connecting them were built last month by Martin Hageland. There are structures at the top of the riverbank, then they cascade down the steep slope to the Roaring Fork.

The work was performed without permits from Eagle or Pitkin counties. The property straddles both counties. Zoning officers from both jurisdictions have ordered Hageland to stop work, submit plans and take other steps to comply.

Eagle County code enforcement officer Rudy Zitti estimated that Hageland has six or seven riverbank structures, including observation decks.

While other stretches of the river have extensive development nearby, Hageland’s fancy workings are the first visible between the outskirt of Basalt and the lower Basalt Bypass Bridge on Highway 82.

That entire stretch of river has great importance as wildlife habitat, said Beaudry. In fact, the conservancy teamed with the Pitkin County Open Space Program last summer to buy and conserve 84 acres of land in Emma, just upvalley from Hageland’s property. That land provides an important migration route for deer, elk and other wildlife traveling between the Christine State Wildlife Area in the hills above Basalt and Light Hill, south of Highway 82.

Beaudry said the Conservancy wants riverside development codes that prohibit work like Hageland’s. When notified that conservationists objected to his work, Hageland said he’s taken steps to benefit wildlife. He noted that a bird feeder he placed on a dead tree has been wildly popular.

Eagle County’s Zitti said streamside setback requirements may affect some of Hage-

land’s work. No development can be within 50 feet of the high water mark in that property zone, he said. Zitti will check a survey to determine if some of Hageland’s structures violate that setback.

However, he said the conservancy’s desire to see all the riverside development removed probably isn’t feasible.

“I see their point, but by the same token, the owner has property rights,” said Zitti. “If he doesn’t have access to the water feature he’s got, what value is it?”

Basalt town government officials have also received numerous inquiries from people who inaccurately assumed the property was in the town limits.

“Many of the people of Basalt and the midvalley have asked me about it,” said Basalt Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt, who forwarded the concerns to the conservancy.

“I’m appalled there is no regulation that prevents something like that from being built,” she said.


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