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Mutual stream study may be terminated

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

Today the Aspen City Council has the option to formalize its decision to nix hydroelectricity from its current search for renewable energy.

If the controversial Castle Creek Energy Center is removed officially from the discussion with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory — which the city has contracted for $69,000 in its search — it will mean, for now, no further study on Castle and Maroon creeks. In October, a trial over the city’s water rights was set aside so that Aspen and Save Our Streams, a local nonprofit that sued the city in state water court in September 2011, could attempt a compromise through a mutually agreed-upon study of the streams.

Essentially, if the city approves today’s formality on the issue, both parties walk away — unless hydroelectric power resurfaces as an option in the future.

Water lawyer Paul Noto, who represents the plaintiffs, added that if hydropower comes back to the table, “It’s not a certainty that one or more parties would sue.”

“I would hope that there would be a more robust public process and opportunity for interested stakeholders to really have a say in what type of hydro is done rather than being told what type of hydro would be done,” Noto said.

He said that if the city chooses to pursue hydro in the future, the next move made by involved parties will be based on the scale of the project.

“The devil is in the details. I can’t tell you with certainty that certain parties would or would not pursue court action. Hopefully not,” Noto said. “What we were talking about with the Castle Creek Energy Center project was a large-scale diversion from both Castle and Maroon creeks in a conventional run of the river.”

If the city wants to pursue some sort of microhydropower project, he said, it may or may not alleviate environmental concerns.

City Attorney Jim True has recommended that the council approve today’s resolution, which is a dismissal of litigation. If it is approved, Noto said he will commend the council on what he and his plaintiffs think is a good decision.

At True’s suggestion, the council acknowledged in October that the city still believes hydropower is part of Aspen’s renewable-energy future. That means the city intends to retain its water rights on Castle Creek and reserves the ability to improve upon its existing Maroon Creek hydroelectric.

Plaintiffs in the litigation known as T. Richard Butera et al. v. City of Aspen are: T. Richard Butera; Maureen Hirsch; Christopher Goldsbury Jr.; Elk Mountain Lodge LLC; Crystal LLC; American Lake LLC; Ashcroft LLC; and the Bruce E. Carlson Trust.

herk@aspentimes.com


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