Letters largely against Aspen’s hydro request
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Opposition appears to outweigh support by a 3-to-1 margin with regard to the city of Aspen’s initial application to a federal agency for a license that would circumvent a full environmental assessment on the proposed Castle Creek hydroelectric plant project.
At least 40 letters commenting on the application recently were sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is considering the application. The deadline for comments was Jan. 21. However, when the city submits its final application to FERC, there will be another public comment period.
The Aspen City Council has yet to vote on subdividing and rezoning the area on Power Plant Road where the new facility, called the “Castle Creek Energy Center,” would be built. Many Castle Creek area homeowners, as well as those who live near the proposed hydro plant, have spoken against the project during previous public hearings on the issue.
The primary concerns voiced by opponents so far include noise, depleted private water wells and the health of the stream, along with associated adverse effects on the environment. The next public hearing on the issue is scheduled for the council’s Feb. 28 regular meeting.
But the project is not without its support. In a letter to FERC on the application issue, longtime Aspen resident and former councilman Jim Markalunas wrote that the city should be allowed to generate clean and renewable energy for the benefit of its citizens.
“Most importantly, a hydroelectric facility will provide Aspen with an emergency source of power in the event of power failures on the ‘outside grid’ such as occurred in September of 1961 and June of 1984,” he wrote.
Markalunas, a retired worker with the local water district, said the city has demonstrated that the hydro plant can be operated “without detrimental impacts to fishery habitat or stream flows.”
Ellen Freedman, former director of the Aspen Community Foundation, wrote that a similar plant operated from 1893 to 1958 at the same site without damage to Castle Creek. She said because she trusts the biological analysis commissioned by the city and conducted by Dr. Bill Miller, she is not worried about environmental impacts.
“The Castle Creek hydroelectric project is a good example of an initiative with multiple benefits,” Freedman said. “It provides clean power, protects health and climate; it provides stable electricity prices and even profit down the line … and it’s a model for how other communities can achieve energy independence locally.”
Angie Fyfe, interim director of the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office, also wrote in support for the license, also known as a “conduit exemption.”
Fyfe said her office has been working with FERC to develop mechanisms to speed up approval of small hydro projects in the state. The city’s application “is consistent with [our] desire to accelerate FERC permitting for small hydro,” she said.
But it seemed that many more letters and e-mails – at least 30 – were against FERC approval of the exemption. Only a couple appeared to be neutral, merely pointing out that more research needed to be done before a decision is reached.
Aspen resident Dona Stuart took issue with the city’s decision last year to move forward with a project to build a 42-inch pipeline from the Thomas Reservoir to the proposed plant site. The reservoir is used for municipal purposes, such as treated drinking water and irrigation.
“I believe that the city Utilities Department installed the 42-inch penstock [pipe] under false premises in order to qualify for a conduit exemption and thereby avoid a full environmental impact study,” Stuart wrote.
She also claims the city’s environmental studies on minimum stream flows and the effect of stream changes on boreal toads are incomplete “and do not contain adequate sampling data over a sufficient area and time period.”
Lucy R. Hibberd, who lives on the banks of Castle Creek, wrote that the project has been “hastily conceived, poorly planned and deviously presented.”
She said the benefit to the community would be small and the cost to the environment and the Castle and Maroon creek watersheds would be devastating.
“I am appealing to your federal agency to help mitigate the actions taken by the arrogant city of Aspen,” Hibberd said.
Tillie K. Walton, also of Aspen, wrote that the city should embrace other forms of power technology such as solar energy and fuel cells. She acknowledged that the city’s goal of reducing its carbon footprint and achieving an 8 percent gain in renewable energy is laudable, but added that approving the conduit exemption would set a dangerous precedent.
“Not only does the conduit exemption lack proper environmental evaluation for a hydroelectric project, it puts some of the community’s most valuable resources – our healthy rivers – at risk,” she wrote.
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