Skico must solve the morass on Little Annie Road
The Aspen Skiing Co. is certainly having problems with construction traffic on Little Annie Road.
The company requested and was granted (over the strong protests of those who live in the area) permission to open the road early this year in order to allow a quick start on construction of the new deluxe Sundeck restaurant and private club atop Aspen Mountain.
Right from the beginning, there were problems with trucks breaking the rules: starting too early in the morning, driving too fast and making too much noise. The residents – whose objections to the entire project had been overruled – justifiably complained. The Skico, not unreasonably, said it was trying hard and would try even harder to follow the rules, but that it was at the mercy of contractors and workers who were not necessarily amenable to the niceties of backcountry auto etiquette.
This week, however, the situation has become an unmitigated disaster with the return of wet, snowy weather. The road has become virtually impassable. Heavy trucks have churned the soft earth into a morass that mires even the most macho of four-wheel-drive pickup trucks. One major construction truck couldn’t make it up the road even with chains.
And if the road is unpleasant or inconvenient for construction workers, it has become hideous for those who must travel it to get to and from their homes every day.
Historically, this road has been little more than a Jeep track, traveled mainly in the summers or, year-round, by the hardy few who have chosen to live in relative isolation in the small, century-old log cabins that dot the landscape.
In recent years, more modern housing has been constructed on the lower reaches of the road, as well as a select few higher up. But the road has essentially stayed the same – graded only occasionally by county road crews, rutted and rough in many spots, and not the kind of road you would want to be negotiating in a low-slung car.
It is of little value, at this point, to start pointing fingers and laying blame for what we might now consider a mistake, although it is true that both the Skico and the county perhaps ought to have known better than to begin such a massive project so early in the season.
The Skico can argue that the weather is even harder to control than contractors, but this is irrelevant. The point is that, in fighting for permission to open the road early, the company undertook to manage whatever problems might arise as the result of its operations. Unruly construction workers are a problem that must be managed and unruly weather is a problem that must be respected. These are obligations that the Skico took on, obligations that it cannot now shirk.
Right now, the problems must be solved, so the people who are the most directly affected (and who warned everyone about the likelihood that this was a disaster in the making) can get on with their lives. They are valued citizens, taxpayers, volunteers in our emergency organizations, employees in established businesses. Their quality of life is as important as the corporate priorities of the Skico, and must be attended to.
It may be necessary for Pitkin County to red-tag the whole operation until the road has a chance to dry out enough to handle the heavy traffic. How long this may take and what it would cost the Skico in delays to its project undoubtedly will end up as points of argument and negotiation.
Another alternative might be for the Skico to do whatever is necessary to make the road passable right away. This might involve major road work. And if this approach is taken, it must be with the firm understanding of all concerned that once the Sundeck project is completed, the Skico will undo the work it has done and restore Little Annie Road to its former backcountry condition.
This is the promise that was hammered out in the approvals process for the Sundeck work, based on sound reasoning and a desire that the construction at the top of Aspen Mountain wreak as little havoc as possible.
The Skico must live up to that promise, and it is up to Pitkin County to see that it does.
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