Official vents about El Jebel project’s chilly reception
EL JEBEL – An Eagle County commissioner accidentally vented his frustration last weekend over a problem in the middle Roaring Fork Valley to scores of people though he intended a testy email for just one pair of eyes.
Commissioner Jon Stavney sent an email to Roaring Fork Transportation Authority CEO Dan Blankenship chiding him for what Stavney deemed inappropriate behavior on the part of RFTA staff. RFTA staff members expressed concerns last month that Eagle County’s plan to realign Valley Road and improve its intersection with El Jebel Road would interfere with the bus agency’s plan to buy land in El Jebel and develop a parking lot for bus riders.
RFTA is working on a project called bus rapid transit that will drastically expand the transportation system. RFTA is facing tight deadlines and tough rules on how it can spend a $25 million federal grant. It wants the system completed by September 2013.
Meanwhile, Eagle County is leading an effort to improve roads and an intersection in the El Jebel area so they can handle more traffic. The intersection is south of Highway 82 at the main El Jebel intersection.
The improvements are needed, according to Eagle County officials, if an indoor recreation center is approved at Crown Mountain Park. Proponents of the recreation center are seeking approval from the county. Traffic has been a sticking point.
A consultant for Eagle County suggested realigning Valley Road south of the existing county office and community center so the intersection can be pulled farther away from Highway 82. To do that, the road also needs to be realigned through the parking lot RFTA intends to develop. Funding for the road realignment isn’t secured, so RFTA staff members have expressed fears that the project could take a long time to complete and will delay their project.
Stavney took offense at the suggestion.
“I hope to hear the end of RAFTA (sic) staff winging about how everyone else is an impediment to BRT (bus rapid transit),” Stavney wrote. “We all want it to be a success.”
Winging, in this case, is a British term for complaining, whiningly.
Stavney said he thought he was sending the email just to Blankenship. He had replied to an email Blankenship sent Saturday to numerous RFTA staff members, elected officials in the Roaring Fork Valley and members of the press. Blankenship sent the agenda for Thursday’s RFTA meeting.
Stavney hit the “reply all” button when he fired off his email Saturday regarding the RFTA staff’s alleged whining.
Stavney has been sensitive about the reception to Eagle County’s efforts. The prior week, he got angry with the Basalt Town Council over scathing remarks about the proposed improvements.
Stavney, a Democrat, faces a re-election bid this fall after serving nearly four years. Two Republicans are vying in the primary for the right to challenge him.
Stavney said Monday his email to RFTA officials was “perhaps inappropriate.” He sent a new email at 1 p.m. Monday to recipients of the original email to explain his words.
“I had been frustrated in previous hearings, you will remember, with the sense that any attempts by Eagle County to make a long-term correction to the intersection was perceived entirely as an impediment to BRT (bus rapid transit) or by Crown Mountain,” Stavney wrote. “Comments in the paper by the Basalt Town board last week were disappointing and affirming of my earlier frustrations.”
He apologized if anyone was insulted by his original email to the RFTA crew.
Blankenship said no apology was necessary but graciously accepted.
“I did not really take it personally,” Blankenship said. “I think it’s kind of a nonissue.”
Michael Owsley, who is a chairman of the RFTA board of directors and a Pitkin County commissioner, also downplayed Stavney’s email.
“Commissioners ought to say how they feel,” he said.
Owsley noted he has used some pretty sharp language in the past to criticize Eagle County decisions, such as land-use approvals. He said he has worked with Stavney in the past, knows him well and just figured “he had a bad day” on Saturday when he wrote the email.
Stavney said his Saturday email is already out of date. He said he learned Monday from county staff that discussions with RFTA have “come a long ways” recently.
Eagle County will learn Tuesday if the proposed improvements get a more friendly reception from the public than they received from other public agencies. The Eagle County commissioners will resume their review of the application for an indoor recreation center at Crown Mountain. The meeting is at 5 p.m. at the Eagle County office building and community center.
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