Roundabout fate up in air |

Roundabout fate up in air

Final arguments in the latest legal wrangling over construction of a roundabout on Highway 82 were filed yesterday, putting the fate of the controversial project in the hands of a federal judge.

Depending on how U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Babcock rules, work on the roundabout could come to a complete halt, proceed with changes to the way the site is managed, or continue without pause.

The motion before Babcock, filed last month by the Friends of Marolt Park, argues that the project is violating federal environmental laws because a 2-acre construction storage and staging area was not identified in the original environmental impact statement.

The site in question is located across the highway from the golf course, on the triangle of land that makes up the Thomas/Marolt open space. Several large cottonwood trees were removed to allow for the staging area.

“They maintain that we should have just guessed that the property would be used as a staging area,” said Friends’ attorney Lori Babcock. The roundabout at Maroon Creek Road is part of the Entrance to Aspen portion of the ongoing work to widen Highway 82 from two lanes to four. Although it is part of the state highway system, local elected officials decided this spring to pay for the work ahead of the schedule set by the state, hoping to get reimbursed in the future. The project includes transit lanes from Maroon Creek Bridge to Maroon Creek Road, a new transit station and the roundabout.

Babcock is considering a second request by The Friends of Marolt Park for a temporary restraining order.

In their first trip to court last May, the group sought a restraining order based on the entire Entrance to Aspen project, which includes the work under way, but actually begins at Buttermilk and ends at the intersection of Seventh and Main streets in Aspen. They were denied that motion because the current work was not supposed to directly affect the Marolt/Thomas open space.

Now the Friends are arguing that the removal of trees and vegetation is permanently disfiguring the property, and federal law requires significant impacts be considered ahead of time. They also argue that the plan to convert the staging area to a wetland once the project is finished is a further alteration of the original landscape.

The city and county attorneys countered that the Friends of Marolt Park “knew or should have known” about the staging area and brought it up in their original request for a restraining order.

Assistant County Attorney Debbie Quinn said site plans that include the staging area were available in April. “They could have had this information in their original motion,” she said.

Besides, Quinn added, federal law does not require the level of detail demanded by the Friends of Marolt Park.

A prompt ruling from Judge Babcock is expected.

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