Skico must `unfix’ a road |

Skico must `unfix’ a road

As construction of a swank private club and new restaurant atop Aspen Mountain begins to wind down, the Aspen Skiing Co. and Pitkin County road department are pondering the meaning of the word “restoration” as it applies to Little Annie Road.

Several definitions are under consideration, and the county expects objections to whatever level of restoration it deems appropriate.

The condition of Little Annie Road, which switches up the backside of Aspen Mountain, has changed dramatically this summer. It has been widened by two to four feet, filled with several tons of gravel that is now spilling into the forest, and compacted by 18-wheelers, cement trucks and other large vehicles bound for the construction site.

In exchange for being allowed to use the road for heavy equipment, the Skico promised to undo the damage once the work was finished. Now the company and the county, and even some Little Annie residents, aren’t so sure full restoration is necessary.

“The tricky question is how do we restore the road, but not so well that it increases traffic up there,” said Skico Planning Director Bill Kane.

For other Little Annie residents, however, there is nothing tricky about it: The road must be fully restored. And, they’ve got legal leg to stand on in the form of county resolution 99-63.

The resolution gave the company permission to demolish the old Sundeck and replace it with a 22,000-square-foot building that will house a new restaurant and the private club. It also requires restoration of all affected roads – Little Annie Road, Midnight Mine Road and Summer Road – to their “preconstruction activity condition.”

“The deal was that they restore it to the way it was prior to construction,” said Randy Gold, a resident of the Lime Village subdivision at the bottom of Little Annie Road.

When the county agreed last spring to let the Skico use the road, many people living in the area, including Gold, protested loudly. Little Annie Road is a classic backcountry road, they reminded the commissioners, with minimal upkeep in the summer and no plowing in the winter.

“We were ripped that they were even allowed to improve the road to do the project,” Gold said.

But the commissioners let the company to use it and improve it as long as certain restrictions and conditions, including restoration, were met. They even required the company to post a $165,000 bond to ensure repairs are done by August 2000.

“The cash that was posted as a bond represents what is needed, in our opinion, for the worst case,” said Skico planning director Bill Kane.

The only way the entire kitty will be spent, Kane said, is if the road is degraded to an extreme degree, and there is agreement between the company and the county that significant improvements are needed to restore the road.

Kane said neither the company nor the county public works department believes all of the money will be needed. “That certainly represents the maximum coverage, and I don’t think that either the county or the company believe that it will be necessary to spend that amount.” Restoration plan The Skico’s manager on the Sundeck project, Gert Van Moorsel, has submitted a two-phase restoration plan that includes weed control, drainage work, removal of gravel and a narrowing of the road. He said restoration would begin this fall with ditch maintenance and re-vegetation along the roadside, and the replacement of three aspen trees near the bottom of the road that were killed by a truck bound for the Sundeck.

Next spring and summer, the company will do the bulk of the restoration work – removing gravel, narrowing the road and repairing the banks along both sides. A draft of the plan is currently under review at the public works department, and it is expected to go before the county commissioners this winter.

“I don’t think there will be a lot of opposition to the restoration work this fall, but next year is a different question,” said Brian Pettit, deputy director of public works.

One likely bone of contention will be how much of the gravel needs to be removed. Gold and some of his neighbors think all of it needs to go, even if that means the company has to hire people to dig it out by hand. But, Gold admits, that opinion is not unanimous.

“It’s a lot easier to get up and down,” commented one resident who lives in a relatively remote section. “I don’t know if they should change it.”

“The big question is how much we want to restore the road to its original condition,” Pettit said. “It’s a judgment call: Do we remove some of the gravel and haul it out, or do we dig all the way down to the native soils?”

If some of the gravel is left in place, Pettit said, the road will be easier to maintain, and will stay in better shape during spring runoff. Pools of water can be found in a few sections of the road nearly every spring, he said.

Another likely flash point is over the final stretch of the road, which runs for about a mile through a densely wooded forest before reaching the top of the mountain. The bank on the uphill side of the road has been cut away in several spots, exposing tree roots; on the downhill side, so much gravel has been used to widen the road that the roots of nearby trees are buried.

Dozens of the downhill-side trees also bare fresh scars where bark has been ripped away from the base of the tree trunk – testament, say Gold and fellow Little Annie resident John Dufficy, to the damage caused by the Skico this summer.

“Are they going to replace those trees?” Gold wondered. “They’re probably going to die.”

The Skico’s Van Moorsel said that many of the trees were scared before this year, and doubted that any fresh nicks and cuts will kill the trees. Both Van Moorsel and Pettit said the gravel that’s covering the tree roots would be removed next summer.

Pettit also promised the county would work closely with the residents. Public hearings are expected this winter, he said, and once a final plan is in place, the county will make sure the Skico complies to it.

So far, however, the residents have been out of the loop. “We haven’t been able to give any input yet. We keep expecting to see some sort of plan so we can comment,” said Gold.

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