Opposition could stall Skico plows | AspenTimes.com

Opposition could stall Skico plows

Chad Abraham
Mark Fox/The Aspen Times

Residents on the back side of Aspen Mountain are denouncing a plan by the Aspen Skiing Co. to plow Little Annie Road so the company can install new gondola cars.The Skico today will ask for permission from Pitkin County to plow the road April 1. It hopes to have the new cabins installed and related construction completed by July 1.”While these are not extensive modifications, they are very time-critical as we must have the gondola [operating] by July 1st,” said Philip Ring, Skico’s project manager, in a letter to the county commissioners. “In order to meet this deadline, it will be necessary to gain access to the top terminal via Little Annie Road prior to its natural melt-off.”Randy Gold, president of the Little Annie Homeowners’ Association, also wrote to the county.”While we appreciate the [Skico’s] position, we unanimously and vigorously oppose plowing of the road prior to the natural snowmelt,” he wrote. “In our view, early plowing is inconsistent with the spirit and intention of Rural and Remote zoning, as well as past representations made by the [Skico] regarding this issue.”The road’s status as a rural and remote thoroughfare also is an issue for the county’s public works department, said its director, Brian Pettet.The county is allowed to plow 1.5 miles up the road, but plowing farther than that is prohibited under the county’s asset management plan. The road above that point becomes passable for vehicles when the snow melts.Granting the Skico’s request may involve changing the service level of the road, Pettet said. Little Annie Road is designated at a limited service level, the lowest of the county’s four road classifications. Plowing on roads designated to have limited service is prohibited.”There are legal questions that need to be answered” before the plan can be approved, Pettet said.Plowing is also prohibited in areas designated as rural and remote in the county land-use code.”Otherwise, there are landowners in this county who would plow to their house all year long. And they have the resources to do that,” Pettet said.Gold’s letter spells out the homeowner’s association’s three major concerns: environmental damage, financial motivation and inconsistency with a 1999 county resolution.”Early plowing will wreak havoc with the character of the road, particularly given the above-average snowpack of this year,” he wrote. “Not only can we expect damage to numerous trees resulting from the plowing itself (as occurred last time the ASC plowed early), but road drainage will certainly be compromised and the road surface will become heinous.”Little Annie Road has been a source of contention before involving the Skico. The company approached the county in the late 1990s for a one-time request to plow the road. The Skico needed the road then for construction of the Sundeck restaurant atop Aspen Mountain.The request was approved, and the Skico paid the county $66,000 to mitigate damage to the road and surrounding vegetation. The environment has recovered for the most part, Pettet said.The county did not change the service level status of Little Annie Road when it was used for the Sundeck.”But just because it was done that way in the past doesn’t necessarily make it the right way to do it,” Pettet said. “And if this is going to be an ongoing event – there seems to be a trend here – [and] if the commissioners want to allow plowing of that road intermittently, then the service level needs to change.”Pettet agreed that plowing the road will exacerbate drainage problems. He noted that the Skico’s plan, if approved, will involve traffic with heavy loads on the road when it is usually drying out from winter.He also said the company has been vague in its request so far.”We don’t know enough about what they’re doing, and I haven’t seen justification as to why they have to have early access,” Pettet said.The Little Annie homeowners suggested that the Skico think about using Aspen Highlands for summer events until the road dries out.”Why should the public’s rights be compromised to accommodate this private enterprise?” Gold asked. “It seems clear to us that both residents and the numerous recreational users of Little Annie Basin will be considerably inconvenienced by early plowing.”Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said the company is aware of the issues surrounding the request and is working to address them.Gold’s letter said the county’s approval of the Aspen Mountain construction management plan in 1999 stipulated that the Skico waived its right to use the road except in emergencies.”Emergency circumstances are defined as those activities that do not include planned construction or routine maintenance of facilities,” he wrote, citing the commissioners’ resolution.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com

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