Crystal River Caucus want more influence on Carbondale to Crested Butte trail | AspenTimes.com

Crystal River Caucus want more influence on Carbondale to Crested Butte trail

The Crystal River snakes through a section of the valley around Placita in a shot taken last fall. Pitkin County is studying alignments for a possible pedestrian trail. Some Crystal Valley residents want more say in the review.

Some residents of the Crystal River Caucus are demanding that the Pitkin County commissioners give them a seat at the table when discussing the controversial Carbondale-to-Crested Butte trail.

The caucus board of directors sent a letter to the county commissioners last week indicating they have felt marginalized in the review process so far. They said the experience is eroding their confidence in the caucus process in Pitkin County's home-rule-style government.

"The Crystal River Caucus feels that we should also be invited to participate in those meetings with the (county commissioners) and the (Open Space and Trails) board and staff — especially because the valley that will be impacted is in our caucus area," the letter said. "To restore confidence regarding the advisory role of the caucus, we ask that the county (commissioners) include the caucus in all future trail development meetings as a full partner in this process."

County commissioner chairwoman Patti Clapper said she forwarded the letter to the county staff to reiterate the standing of a caucus. It's her understanding for years of experience in county government that a caucus is an advisory body only.

“We will be taking their recommendations, their comments seriously.”

— Patti Clapper, commissioner chairwoman

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"It is not a rule of thumb. It's not written in stone," Clapper said of the caucus' recommendations.

"We will be taking their recommendations, their comments seriously," she added.

However, the board cannot give the caucus a special seat at the table, according to Clapper.

"That would be precedent-setting," she said. In her years of experience on the Board of County Commissioners, the commissioners haven't given a caucus power to reject or advance an issue.

All stakeholders must be treated equally, Clapper said.

"We must listen to all the comments," she said.

She noted that the county staff makes sure the caucus is aware of all meetings tied to the trail so they can send representatives.

A caucus is a consortium of neighborhood residents that determines positions on issues and gives a common voice to the area in broader political discussions. Pitkin County urged the creation of caucuses when it went to a form of government known as home rule rather than one strictly defined by the state government. Woody Creek, Emma, Snowmass Creek and the Maroon-Castle area all have caucuses.

The county commissioners have vowed to undertake a thorough review of the proposed trail, with ample opportunities for public comment.

The Crystal River Caucus has taken an active role against the Pitkin County section of the Carbondale-to-Crested Butte trail. At its annual membership meeting in November, the caucus passed five motions regarding the trail or the review process.

One motion recommends the county "scrap the public input" gathered so far because there was no way for respondents to a survey to indicate they were opposed to the trail. The county says 572 people responded to a survey asking for preferences between two possible alignments — one mostly within the Highway 133 corridor and the other on the east side of the Crystal River. A blending of the two also was possible.

The caucus said the public-opinion process should be restarted to first determine if the public believes the trail should be built and is worth the cost of pursuing.

The motion passed 56 to 6 with three abstentions, according to minutes of the meeting.

Another motion demanding that the trail not infringe on any sensitive wildlife habitat areas was approved 55 to 8 with four abstentions.

The motions and votes were sent to the commissioners with a request for a response. Caucus members are frustrated because the county hasn't responded.

The county commissioners met with the open space trustees July 16 at a public meeting with Crystal River Caucus chairwoman Delia Malone and other board members attending. The commissioners directed the open space staff to work on a draft plan for the trail. When finished, it will be reviewed by the open space board and county commissioners, then opened to renewed public comment.

scondon@aspentimes.com