Midvalley secession effort steadily losing momentum
The midvalley secession movement that began in earnest late last year appears to be on the verge of collapse, or, worse, irrelevance.
Just three people showed up at the last meeting on the initiative two weeks ago, and it appears that the movement is on hold until its charismatic leader returns to the valley sometime next month, elected officials from Basalt and Eagle County learned last night at Basalt Town Hall.
Secessionist Anne Austin-Clapper said she was hoping someone from the county commissioners or the Town Council would sit in on her group’s meetings, partly to provide guidance.
“I think there are too many factions in our group – there are two people wanting this, two people wanting that, and two people wanting something else,” Austin-Clapper said.
“That’s why we never got involved,” said Basalt Mayor Rick Stevens.
Nearly 65 midvalley residents crammed into a high school gym last winter for a spirited meeting about how to get out from under Eagle County’s jurisdiction, and what to do if they are successful. Many residents in the midvalley have long complained that they are underrepresented, and even ignored, by their elected representatives in Eagle. Many said they would rather be in Pitkin County or form a new county altogether.
The Roaring Fork Valley is split among three counties – Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield. The county seats of Pitkin County and Garfield County, Aspen and Glenwood Springs, are at either end of the valley, which makes it easy for valley residents to interact with their county government.
Residents of the Eagle County portion of the valley, which begins in the middle of downtown Basalt and ends about four miles downvalley from El Jebel, must drive between 60 and 70 miles to get to their county seat in Eagle, turning everything from jury duty to submitting a land-use application to contesting a traffic ticket into a burden.
After a strong start, Austin-Clapper said, the group appears to have lost its focus and people’s interest. Some folks want to join Pitkin County, some want to stay put, others want to form a new county and still others want to reform the one they’re in.
“At each secession meeting,” she said, “we’ve had less and less people. We had three people at the last meeting and at the one before, we only had four.”
None of the elected officials volunteered to join the group.
The Basalt Town Council has remained decidedly neutral about secession since the idea resurfaced last winter. And the three-member Board of County Commissioners is the focus of everyone’s antipathy.
Elected officials, however, said they are willing to discuss the idea of home rule, which would carve Eagle County into five districts and give each a seat on an expanded Board of County Commissioners.
“I think we need to further investigate the idea of home rule,” said Commissioner James Johnson Jr., “not just for Basalt and El Jebel, but for Eagle County as a whole.”
Austin-Clapper said she doesn’t expect another secession meeting until the movement’s founder, John Freeman, returns to the valley in mid-June.
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