Aspen getting to the nitty gritty in downtown alleys

Aspen’s alleys are a blight that the city can no longer stand, so the government is taking it upon itself Thursday to throw dumpster loads of abandoned items away as a courtesy to local businesses.

“We’ve had complaints about the alleys forever,” Mitch Osur, the city’s director of parking and downtown services, said Monday.

He walked the alleys with City Manager Sara Ott a couple of months ago to assess the situation, after Mayor Torre, who lives downtown and sees the trash accumulate, brought up the issue.

Alleys in the 16-block area from Monarch to Original and Durant to Main streets will get a flushing of discarded debris from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“It’s a one-time deal,” Osur said, adding that the city is spending about $3,000 on the effort.

After things are removed, the streets department will clean and sweep the alleys Thursday and Friday.

City officials spent two days last week placing “dispose of” stickers on items such as furniture, propane heaters, doors and water heaters to let businesses know they are about to get tossed.

“The feedback from businesses has been positive,” Osur said.

City staffers from several departments, as well as business representatives, will have access to four, 30-yard dumpsters that will be stationed throughout the downtown. They will then be emptied at the landfill.

The streets department will collect scrap metal, which is not accepted in roll-off dumpsters. There will be a pile at Galena Street and Cooper Avenue near the fire pit area for businesses, restaurants and downtown residents to drop scrap metal.

Osur estimated that half of what’s in the downtown alleys is scrap metal.

The city will be removing pallets abandoned in the alleys on a regular basis until the issue can be managed better, Osur said.

He said 80 pallets already have been removed but they keep appearing.

“They are like bunnies,” he said, “they multiply.”

Hazardous materials including chemicals, vehicle batteries, paints, oils, fluorescent lights and propane tanks won’t be accepted Thursday.

The city’s ordinance prohibiting the storage of items in alleys is not currently enforced, but once everything is cleaned up, it will be.

“If we can get the alleyways clean, then I will be going to retailers and explain the ordinance,” Osur said. “We are looking to work together.”

The city’s streets department also will be hyper-focused on removing snow in the alleys as soon as it accumulates to prevent ice build up.

Osur said he envisions that maybe five years from now, some alleys are activated with retail and restaurant spaces and designated pedestrian and bicycle thoroughfares.

“We can make them an active place,” he said, adding that there is a long way to go before downtown alleys are ready for that. “Let’s start with baby steps.”