Mayors, business leaders detail their issues to Pitkin County commissioners
Three mayors, a real estate pundit and one of Aspen Skiing Co.’s most outspoken employees assembled Monday to apprise Pitkin County department heads and elected officials about their most pressing issues ranging from traffic gridlock to climate change.
The panelists spoke at the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners annual retreat, held at the Limelight Hotel. Moderated by County Manager Jon Peacock, the discussion was a way for county commissioners and officials to hear directly from some of the upper valley’s most influential decision-makers.
“We haven’t really worked together in a room such as this to identify the problems and solutions going forward,” said Snowmass Village Mayor Markey Butler.
Butler was joined by fellow mayors Steve Skadron of Aspen and Jacque Whitsitt of Basalt. Additional speakers were Chuck Frias of Frias Properties of Aspen, and Auden Schendler, Skico’s vice president of environmental sustainability.
A common emphasis was on regionalism, with the backdrop of maintaining a healthy economy, traffic gridlock, tackling climate change and the expansions of Aspen’s hospital, airport and other major capital projects coming down the line for the upper valley’s public sector.
“I very much believe in the concept of regionalism,” Skadron said, adding that downvalley municipalities and communities stand to benefit from Aspen’s success, whether it’s through the mayor’s vision of making Aspen a mountaineering hub not only for athletes but engineers and designers of uphilling equipment and technology.
“Our success here can be the rest of the valley’s,” Skadron added.
The possible airport expansion — advocates say it must be modernized to accommodate a new generation of aircraft — is vital to the future of area tourism, Frias, Markey and Schendler agreed.
“That is critical to the occupancy in Snowmass,” Markey said.
Schendler conceded that Skico is often conflicted with the decisions it makes. But the airport expansion, he said, is “huge” to the company’s future.
“The bigger winged aircraft are more energy efficient, but they’re longer,” he said in reference to the 118-foot wingspan the airport is aiming to accommodate with the expansion. The current limit is 95 feet. “Creative transportation solutions, we’re open to that.”
Schendler noted that Skico often gets criticized for the Winter X Games, which are held annually at Buttermilk, because of the event’s impact on the environment.
“This whole economy is obviously tied to skiing and my challenge is, really, staying in business in the traditional sense versus staying in business in the climate sense,” he said. “Those goals are at odds with each other and you see it in the community all the time.”
Schendler noted that philosophical conflict also is evident at the Aspen S-curves, which can be choked with rush-hour traffic during the peak seasons.
“Some will say keep Aspen quiet (and not fix the entrance to Aspen), but it hurts the whole community,” Schendler said.
Commissioner George Newman warned that the pending summer construction will translate to even more gridlock.
“The traffic is going to be unbelievable when construction hits,” he predicted. “It’s going to be incredibly busy, and it’s going to impact everybody.”
“It seems that we sit back and we get abused by it,” he said, adding that “traffic congestion threatens the quality of life here.”
Traffic is a problem in Snowmass as well, just not at the same level, Butler said.
“We do have a problem with traffic, not as much as Aspen,” she said, noting that when a truck wrecks on Brush Creek Road, vehicles can be backed up for a significant amount of time.
Basalt’s traffic issues, meanwhile, will get a big boost with the construction of the underpass at Highway 82 and Basalt Avenue, Whitsitt said. Construction of the $4.1 million underpass is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2016.
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