Neighbors speak out on hydroelectric plan
ASPEN Castle Creek area residents had a chance to sound off Wednesday on a proposed hydroelectric project slated for a Nov. 6 ballot question.About 20 people met with city public works and water officials at the City Streets Department below the Castle Creek bridge – adjacent to the proposed plant. Many expressed concern about everything from the noise of turbine generators to reduced river flows, and some said they felt excluded from the planning process on what they called a “rushed” vote.The proposed $5.5 million, 1.1-megawatt plant would produce 5.5 million kilowatt-hours a year, enough to power 655 homes annually, city officials said. Trading power bought from coal-powered plants in Nebraska and Wyoming for clean hydroelectric power would eliminate 5,167 tons of C02 emissions – a 0.6 percent reduction in communitywide carbon emissions, Aspen Public Works Director Phil Overeynder said.And tapping the renewable source, in the long run, would reduce the price of electricity, Overeynder said.The project would use existing water rights, head gates and water storage components of the original Castle Creek hydroelectric plant, which met Aspen’s electric power needs from 1892 through 1958.”We propose to put these assets back in use,” Overeynder said.But the plan requires voter approval of an open space land exchange. The proposed site is on open space, and city officials want to swap the 26,700-square-foot parcel at the hairpin turn on Power Plant Road for 3,500 linear feet of trails on the 55-acre city water plant property along Castle Creek as well as 30,900 square feet of the Millionaire Lode near the base of Aspen Mountain.Jim Markalunas, whose uncle ran the original plant in the 1920s – and who worked there himself in the 1950s – said the project is good not just for Aspen but for the environment.”If you care for the planet, you’ll support clean, renewable energy,” Markalunas said, adding that there is no better substitute than hydroelectric power. “I believe in it. I think it’s good for the community. And it’s good for the planet.”The city is asking voters to issue bonds worth nearly $4 million. Revenue from electricity sales will pay for the bonds. The facility also would derive funding from a $400,000 grant from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency. The city will pay $780,000 toward the project.Neighbors expressed concern about the effect on river levels.Water in Thomas Reservoir currently is diverted from both Maroon and Castle creeks to Thomas Reservoir. If the plant is built, the additional draw on both rivers would be negligible during spring runoffs and would not take rivers below a minimum of 12 cubic feet per second, Overeynder said.Water would be diverted only for the 1-mile stretch of Castle Creek and return to the river just below the plant, Overeynder said.Planners estimate the plant’s two turbines will require a 3,000-square-foot building they say could be placed underground. Planners will divert Power Plant Road by 10 feet to make room for the plant and plan to add two parking places.Neighbors also are worried about noise.But Overeynder cited other successful in-town hydroelectric projects, such as the existing plant in the center of Georgetown. The turbines would generate 60 decibels inside the plant, and fewer outside, Overeynder said – less than the noise of Castle Creek flowing by.Others neighbors were upset that the project was being rushed, that voters were being asked to approve the new plant without any design specifics.”We’re in the awkward position of having to trust the city,” said Yasmine DePagter, who lives near the plant site.Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland stood up to address neighbors’ concerns at the end of the meeting, and said Nov. 6 wouldn’t be the end of public process on the design.Ireland said he would have preferred a longer process for approving the plant, but the move was part of new City Council efforts to make a difference on environmental issues.”We decided we were going to stop talking about it and take some action,” Ireland said.That means bringing not just the hydroelectric proposal to voters, but a city stormwater plan and a new tax on construction materials that will fund downtown transit, Ireland said.”I am supporting anything I can do that cuts our carbon footprint,” Ireland said.Ireland promised the new plant will maintain minimum streamflows on Castle Creek, and added that making use of local water rights prevents the diversion of precious water to the Front Range.Neighbor Kirk Gregory was upset that he’d found out about the project only a few months before the vote, and said he worried about noise levels and other impacts.”If it’s done right, I would support it,” Gregory said after the meeting.Overeynder promised another information meeting before the Nov. 6 ballot question.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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