Officials eye new road for work on Pass |

Officials eye new road for work on Pass

John Colson

A potentially controversial plan to build a temporary access road near the summit of Independence Pass, to be used in ongoing slope stabilization work, is being considered this week by local, state and federal officials.

The Independence Pass Stabilization Team, which is made up of representatives from numerous agencies and organizations, is meeting for a tour of the pass today. They will evaluate stabilization work done so far and examine alternatives for future projects, according to longtime Aspenite Bob Lewis.

The team will assemble again on Friday for a meeting to debate the merits of those alternatives, including the proposal for a temporary road to aid in the restoration efforts.

Lewis, who heads up the Independence Pass Foundation, has been working on revegetation and other stabilization projects on the pass for years, trying to undo environmental damage that has resulted from construction of the highway.

The latest project, construction of a retaining wall along Highway 82 where it traverses the “top cut” just below the pass, was completed last fall.

This was the second such wall built along the top cut, in an attempt to create a “terrace” above the road and prevent further erosion and rock falls from the slopes above, Lewis explained. More walls are planned in the future, including some on the slopes below the road and above the wetlands on the valley floor, where the Roaring Fork River meanders from its source on its way downvalley.

Lewis said the restoration team includes representatives from the foundation, the city of Aspen, Pitkin County and the U.S. Forest Service. He said the Forest Service is the “prime mover” of the proposal to build a temporary access road on the slopes below the top cut. The road is intended to allow heavy equipment to get to the slide areas and attempt to stabilize the area.

According to White River National Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle, a zone of rocks, dirt and other material that has slid down from the slopes above – a zone she called the “toe of the slope” – is creeping toward the meandering river, which poses a hazard to the free flow of the water.

Although reluctant to say much about the road proposal, or any other alternatives that will be discussed at the restoration team’s meetings, she stressed that nothing will be done until it has received the blessing of the team.

She said she is aware that the road proposal is controversial, and has already alarmed some environmentalists in the valley. “That’s why we need to talk with them on Friday,” Ketelle said.

Her office recently received a $70,000 grant from Washington, D.C. to perform some sort of restoration and stabilization project, she said, and the decision on how the money can best be spent is a local one.

Lewis hailed the grant as evidence of “a level of commitment on their part that we haven’t seen in the past,” and said he is optimistic about the outcome of the discussions.

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