Smuggler to see better road care
Wilk Wilkinson won a victory yesterday, albeit minor and perhaps his first, in his ongoing battle with county over Smuggler Mountain Road.
Pitkin County commissioners voted 3-0 to require better maintenance of the dirt road so that it meets maintenance standards for remote county roads. That means the boulders that litter the road will be more promptly removed and the road will be graded regularly enough to ensure it remains passable.
The decision came after Wilkinson appealed a county road department decision to make no changes in the way Smuggler Mountain Road is maintained. Popular among local bikers and hikers and a common access point to the backcountry, the road also connects Aspen with Wilkinson’s property, which extends up the face and on the top of the mountain, which flanks Aspen’s east side.
Wilkinson actually claims to own the road, which was cut in the late 1800s to serve the mines on the mountain. Earlier this year, the county commissioners ruled that the road is a public right of way. Wilkinson appealed that ruling, and a hearing is scheduled for Aug. 17.
Even though yesterday’s hearing wasn’t supposed to be about ownership, the subject still came up as the discussion on road maintenance progressed. At one point, Wilkinson lectured the commissioners about the effects their actions have on his ability to develop his property.
“You’ve taken the road from me, ignored a court order that said it was a private road and now you’re trying to take 15 feet on either side of the road,” Wilkinson charged.
He vowed to fight what he alleges to be a “taking” of his private property, and at one point threatened to go to federal court to seek a temporary closure of the road.
After Commissioner Leslie Lamont steered the conversation back to road maintenance, Wilkinson urged the commissioners to adopt his 11-point list of maintenance procedures. It includes grading, ditch building, dust control, removal of boulders from the road and uphill slopes, and snow removal after every snowstorm.
Commissioners voted instead to direct its roads staff to maintain the road at the same level as other similar county roads, rejecting much of Wilkinson’s list. But they also rejected Public Works Deputy Director Brian Pettet’s contention that the road is maintained at the same level as other remote county roads, like Snowmass Creek Road and Capital Creek Road, and that no changes are needed on Smuggler Mountain Road.
The county regularly removes boulders and trees that fall onto remote roads like Snowmass Creek Road, and does the necessary grading to keep them passable.
“I can’t believe Pettet sat in there and lied,” Wilkinson said after the hearing.
Local hikers report that boulders are rarely removed from Smuggler Mountain Road, and county Engineer Bud Eylar conceded during the hearing that there are some ongoing drainage problems along the road.
Commissioner Dorothea Farris mentioned that it would be much easier to consider changes to the way the road is managed if Wilkinson had an application to develop the property filed with the county. Wilkinson said he would have filed a completed application, but he can’t afford it in light of the research and legal fees he has incurred in his fight with the county.
The commissioners responded by directing the planning staff to see if Wilkinson can be credited for some of his research on Smuggler that’s benefited the county. They declined, however, to pay the $700,000 bill Wilkinson submitted recently.
“I’ve got to tell you the county is not going to reimburse you $700,000,” Lamont said.
“I’m not asking you to,” Wilkinson replied. “You asked for it and I submitted, pay what you want.”
Wilkinson said the bill represents costs incurred fighting the county over who owns the road and how to develop the property since 1987. Broken out over 12 years, the $700,000 bill boils down to slightly more than $58,300 per year.
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