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Pitkin County commissioners wading into controversial river restoration

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times
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ASPEN – A plan to restore a stretch of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen that initially pitted some environmental organizations against others and drew objections from neighbors will resurface Monday, when Pitkin County commissioners visit the site in preparation for their review of the project later this month.

Four landowners are involved in the proposal to dredge part of the river channel and stabilize eroding banks, including the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, Aspen Valley Land Trust, landowner Ed Bass (Mountain Valley Cabin LLC) and Fall Line Properties LLC.

Originally proposed in May 2007, the project included dredging and filling parts of the half-mile stretch of river to create riffles and pools that were to improve habitat, and to shore up undercut sections of the bank that are collapsing into the water.

The application was originally slated for administrative review by county staffers, but the plan generated so much public comment, it is being put before commissioners, who are scheduled to take it up June 24.

The East Aspen Caucus went on record against the plan, questioning its intent and impacts, and calling the work “unnecessary and ill-advised.”

Neighbor Andre Wille wrote: “The most important question is, should approval be given to landowners [who] want to alter a vital public resource such as the headwaters of the Roaring Fork watershed for their own personal benefit?”

Rick Lofaro, executive director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, questioned the need for the project on behalf of the group, but the organization has not taken a stand.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife is supporting it. The agency electro-shocked the stretch of river – a procedure that temporarily stuns fish so they can be counted – and will do so again if the project proceeds to determine what benefits were gained by the channel work.

Dredging the river wasn’t permitted by the county’s land-use code when the plans were submitted two years ago, but the code has since been amended to allow consideration of such projects.

The Nature Conservancy, which holds a conservation easement on the ACES parcel, raised its own objections, noting dredging the river was prohibited under the terms of the easement, but it has since amended its easement to allow the project to proceed, said ACES director Tom Cardamone.

Bank erosion is occurring on the ACES parcel, and Cardamone defended the project as an effort to stabilize a river ecosysem that is “unraveling” as the result of agricultural activities early in the last century and unnatural river flows as the result of diversions that send Roaring Fork water to the other side of the Continental Divide.

ACES will host a public forum on the proposed river work from 5 to 7 p.m. today at its Hallam Lake headquarters.

The county’s open space and trails program also holds an easement on the AVLT parcel that may or may not allow the work. Its easement prevents the alteration of habitat that is in a relatively natural condition; the question is whether that stretch of the river is in natural state or has been degraded, said Dale Will, open space and trails director.

But there are erosion problems that require intervention, he added.

“Clearly, I can say that’s not natural, the way it’s calving big chunks of earth into the river there – so we should restore that,” Will said.

The restoration won’t hurt anything and the effort could improve the aquatic habitat, Will said.

“I’m inclined to listen to what they have to say and go to the next step of processing the application,” he said.

janet@aspentimes.com


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