Opposition looks to reverse decision on Aspen hydro plant
December 20, 2011
ASPEN – A group of residents who oppose the idea of a hydroelectric facility on Castle Creek plan to circulate a petition to stop the rezoning of the property, or at least put the decision in the hands of Aspen voters.
A referendum petition has been submitted to the Aspen Clerk and Recorder’s Office seeking to reverse Ordinance 30. The ordinance, which would rezone property off Power Plant Road west of Aspen for a 1,761-square-foot building that would serve as the hydroelectric plant’s operations center, was unanimously approved by the Aspen City Council last week.
The petition must be approved by Aspen City Clerk Kathryn Koch before it can be circulated; this will happen no later than Dec. 28, Koch said. Petition organizers then have until Jan. 17 to collect the signatures of at least 600 registered voters.
Project opponent Maurice Emmer wrote in a letter to The Aspen Times that there is no current need for the ordinance because construction is still pending federal approval.
“Why the rush on the city’s part to rezone this land?” Emmer wrote. “This petition will not bar the city from proceeding with the hydro project. But it will send a message to City Hall: We want renewable energy, but we want approaches that make financial and environmental sense. We want to work with the city to find such approaches. This hydro plant is not one.”
If the petition and signatures are deemed valid, the City Council can repeal the ordinance or set a special election to let voters decide whether they want the property rezoned.
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“Every citizen in Colorado has a constitutional right to petition, to initiate or seek the repeal of legislation,” city spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin said in response to the petition effort. “We hope the Aspen citizens will judge the issue on the merits of the project.”
Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch, who voted in favor of the rezoning but has questions about the project’s viability, said his hope is that the petition brings the debate to the forefront.
“I don’t know the inside baseball of the petition process, but I assume this is a rare window of opportunity for the opposition to voice their concerns – and I share some of these concerns,” he said. “I think at some point City Hall needs to check in with the community to make sure the majority of the population still wants to go through with this project on its merits.”
Regardless of the petition’s outcome, the zoning change won’t go into effect unless the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission grants a license to operate such a plant. That application is under review, but City Council members saw value in rezoning the property before gaining FERC approval to show the federal agency that the city is committed to hydroelectric power.
The council made its decision to move forward on rezoning the property amid numerous public queries about the project’s escalating costs, a lawsuit filed by local landowners that questions the city’s water rights and concerns about environmental impacts to Maroon and Castle creeks.
City officials have said that the project is the best way to further the city’s goal of supplying 100 percent renewable energy through its electricity utility. They contend every financial model shows that the new plant would save the community money in the long run.