Judge delays trail project
ASPEN A judge has temporarily halted construction of a pedestrian trail beside lower Castle Creek Road, leaving local officials worried that the entire project may have to be delayed for a year and that its cost could skyrocket.As a condition of putting construction on hold until after an Aug. 22 hearing to determine whether to issue a formal injunction against the project, 9th Judicial District Judge James Boyd on Monday ordered the landowners fighting against the project to pony up a bond of $570,000 in case it is delayed.”That’s what I call a victory,” said businessman and trail opponent Dick Butera, after a two-hour hearing.At the end of the hearing, when the judge and Butera’s attorney were discussing how long it would take to post the bond, Butera cut his attorney off in mid-sentence to tell the judge, “three days.”Butera’s group on July 27 filed a request for a temporary restraining order against Pitkin County over the county’s plans to build a $1.9 million trail along a 3,000-foot stretch of Castle Creek Road near the Aspen Music Festival and School campus. Butera’s co-complainants are Edward Wachs, Robert Rafelson, Heidi Houston, Bruce Gordon, Becky Ayres, John Rice, Bridget Koch, Mac and Bruce Coffey, Larry Slater, and Jane and Tony Battaglia.
County officials have argued the trail, which essentially would be a sidewalk parallel to the road, is needed for the safety of students who walk or bicycle between the music school campus and the Marolt housing complex, both located along Castle Creek Road, south of town.Butera’s group maintains that the county is spending too much money on the project and failed to adequately notify adjacent landowners of its plans, among other objections.”It’s a trail nobody will use,” declared Butera, moments before the Monday evening hearing began; he suggested the Aspen Music Festival and School should create a shuttle service to ferry students from the school to the Marolt housing complex.Dale Will, director of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, said he was uncertain what a delay in the project might mean, but noted that the price tag for the trail is based on a bid from Kiewitt Western Construction, which submitted what he called “a very low bid” because the company already had equipment and workers in the valley finishing up the Pitkin County Airport runway project.The only other bid, according to county officials, was from Gould Construction, at $2.7 million, a price that might become the new low bid if Kiewitt is forced to pull out because of a court-ordered delay.
In addition, officials have said, inflation on public projects is generally running at around 30 percent per year.Assistant County Attorney Chris Seldon told Boyd that the county believes delaying the project until after the Aug. 22 hearing will mean it cannot be completed by Oct. 15. That date is a sort of informal deadline for paving projects.”Murphy’s law is more prevalent in construction than anywhere else,” said county engineer Gerald Fielding at the Monday evening hearing, referring to weather-related problems and other potential causes for delay.Seldon asked the judge to order Butera and his fellow petitioners to post a bond of $1.25 million, claiming that a delay could postpone the project until next spring and vastly increase the costs to taxpayers. But Butera’s attorney, Dave Lenyo, argued that the county’s request was “manufactured to support a very high bond” without any factual justification. He argued that, even without the delay, the county’s own work schedule gave a six-week window after paving ended.
Fielding and Seldon, however, produced a schedule that indicated the window actually was “less than four weeks,” and argued that some of that time had already been consumed by delays.After the hearing, project manager Gary Tennenbaum said county officials will probably make a decision Tuesday as to whether the project will be put on hold until next spring.”It doesn’t look good,” he concluded.The Aug. 22 hearing is to be held at the Pitkin County Courthouse.John Colson’s e-mail address is email@example.com