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Roaring Fork railroad official

Aspen Times staff report

Some Snowmass Canyon residents are worried that their free ride across the railroad right-of-way is coming to an end, and they don’t like it.Judy Royer, a longtime landowner in the canyon, has raised a flap over the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority’s attempt to assess an annual use fee for her driveway, which crosses holding authority property on its way from Lower River Road to her house.”I will never pay you people one dime to drive in my own driveway,” she wrote in a letter to holding authority director Tom Newland.Royer says it’s ridiculous to start charging her a $300 per-year access fee now when she hasn’t had to pay one in the past. “When I bought this property my deal with Denver & Rio Grande [Railroad] was for NO ANNUAL FEE!” she wrote.But Newland says it’s a matter of fairness. “A lot of people with residential crossings pay $50 to $150 a year, while a lot of other people don’t pay anything at all,” he said.Newland estimates that there are around 100 different people and businesses between Glenwood Springs and Aspen that use the railroad right-of-way for private purposes. There’s a rancher who uses it to store hay, a business warehouse that skirts its edge and scores of people who run driveways across it.The holding authority’s board of directors told Newland to negotiate or, in cases where none exist, draw up new contracts with every user in the valley. Newland drafted the contracts and sent them out to people last week with a letter explaining the holding authority’s reason for increasing or implementing the fees.Currently, the holding authority brings in about $14,000 from leases and licenses to use the right-of-way; once everyone is paying, Newland expects that number to be closer to $40,000. The $300 annual fee for a driveway crossing is based on the $50 fee that was charged beginning in the late 1970s.”We just increased it by the amount of inflation that’s occurred since then. In real terms, it’s the same fee that was charged 20 years ago,” Newland said. The money will cover about a third of the annual bill for maintenance.Newland said the discrepancies between who pays and who doesn’t can be tied to the changing policies of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and the Southern Pacific Railroad, the previous right-of-way owners: People who don’t pay cut driveways across the property prior to the late 1970s, while late-comers were assessed rent.”I think this is an equitable way to charge people for their direct use of the corridor – taxpayers will no longer be paying for the upkeep and other costs related to a use that benefits only one property owner,” Newland said.Property owner David Swersky isn’t as worried as Royer about the holding authority’s intentions. Like his neighbor, Swersky has never paid for his driveway crossing, but he has paid a few hundred dollars a year for using small sections of the right-of-way for a carport and a greenhouse. Swersky said he has several concerns with the new contract, but the $300 per year for his driveway isn’t necessarily one of them.”Tom sent us a draft contract, and I thought some parts of it were unreasonable,” Swersky said. “So I called him, and he said he’d work on it. This is clearly a work in progress.”But Royer plans to fight it all the way to the end. “They’ve never maintained the right-of-way around my driveway, except maybe some weed eradication, which the county does anyway,” she said.In her letter, Royer writes, “This is a blueprint for what would happen if you actually succeeded in getting the train implemented. I promise you, Tom, the RTA [Rural Transportation Authority] is dead in the water – any trust you had is certainly gone now. You have a fight on your hands.”Newland said the holding authority board of directors plans to consider changes to the contracts at its next meeting on Nov. 8.


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