Snook, Carbondale to take herbicide dispute to court
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Garry Snook, the multimillionaire owner of Performance Bicycle and a resident of the Crystal River Valley, said yesterday that he’s done nothing to threaten Carbondale’s water supply.
Snook, who owns 55 acres immediately above the town’s Nettle Creek water treatment plant, is embroiled in two lawsuits with the town government over the application of herbicides on his property.
He said that, with one exception, he and his employees have refrained from using any herbicides on the property.
That exception occurred this summer, when an employee applied Weed and Feed, a popular brand used throughout the country. Weed and Feed contains both fertilizer and the herbicide 2,4-D.
“We stopped putting herbicides and fertilizers on our fields as soon as that management plan was finished,” Snook said. He was referring to a July 2001 stipulation that bars him from using chemical treatments until either a court issues a ruling or a settlement is reached with the town.
Snook said the employee who applied the Weed and Feed simply didn’t know of the 2001 stipulation. He said he eventually wants to apply as many as five different herbicides across his property to combat three noxious weeds and a widespread dandelion infestation.
But Carbondale officials remain suspicious. They point out that the violation was only discovered on a site visit to Snook’s property, when a University of Colorado biologist spotted granules in the main house’s lawn and croquet field.
Town officials say they were particularly alarmed that the fertilizer/herbicide was applied within 10 feet of North Nettle Creek and just a few hundred feet upstream from the water treatment plant intake duct.
Mark Hamilton, the town’s water attorney, explained that the water from the Nettle Creek drainage is considered so pure, the town treats it with just filters and chlorine, neither of which would block chemicals contained in herbicides.
“If it goes through the intake, it gets to the town,” Hamilton said.
Carbondale’s water system serves approximately 2,300 households with about 6,000 people. The town’s only other water source is a cluster of relatively shallow wells near the Roaring Fork River about a mile north of town.
The first of the two lawsuits was initiated by the town more than two years ago in Pitkin County District Court. It is set for trial before Judge Thomas Ossola on Oct. 20.
The law behind Carbondale’s case is Colorado’s watershed protection act, which allows cities and towns to control land use within five miles of their water sources. Snook’s property is located several miles outside town but right next to the water source, so the town has jurisdiction over land use.
The second case was filed last week by Snook in U.S. District Court in Denver, arguing that the town is violating federal equal protection laws because they have singled him out for enforcement. Snook owns the only private property above the Nettle Creek treatment plant, but he points out in his filing that there are ranchers and farmers upstream on the Roaring Fork River from the town’s wells who are not being treated with the same scrutiny as he is.
More than once in his interview with The Aspen Times, Snook said chemical pollutants in the water supply were not the issue. He pointed out that the town’s own tests had turned up no evidence of chemical pollutants commonly associated with herbicides.
“I don’t think that’s the issue in the court. There’s been no proof of pollution,” he said. “I guarantee you my one little ranch has virtually zero probability of polluting the town’s water.”
Neither side at this point believes a settlement is likely. Between that fact and Snook’s recent decision to sue on equal protection grounds, town officials called a press conference yesterday morning to explain their position on the eve of the trial.
Hamilton said the case that began over three construction-related incidents that clogged the water filters at the treatment plant has since become a showdown over whether Snook can apply pesticides on his land.
In April 2002, nine months after the town filed suit, consultants on both sides reached what they thought was a reasonable management plan for the application of herbicides on the property, which included conditions for when, where and how the chemicals are applied.
Snook attorney Joe Edwards said both sides signed off on the management plan, and it simply needed the town trustees’ approval.
But that never happened. Several trustees at the time were newly elected and had not been informed of the ongoing negotiations with Snook. And when they saw that the plan allowed for herbicides above the town’s water intake plant, they rejected it.
“I think the board [of trustees] was pretty adamant that no chemicals be applied,” said John Hier, the town manager.
The trustees want Snook to cope with the noxious weeds and dandelion infestation manually, with shovels and other tools.
“We don’t think we’re being unreasonable to ask [Snook] to attempt to use alternatives to chemical treatment,” Mayor Michael Hassig said. “Handling and storage is a concern against a background of incidents that are cause for concern.”
Edwards said that would cost too much, citing one study that found such eradication methods cost anywhere from 70 to 500 times as much as herbicides.
Snook is the founder and CEO of Performance Inc., the parent company of Performance Bicycle. Snook and his wife started the company in 1982 as a mail-order business based out of their home. It has since grown into the largest specialty retailer of bicycles and bicycle accessories in the United States, with stores, catalog sales and a dominant presence on the Internet.
Edwards said Snook is hoping the court will require the town to accept the management plan that the trustees rejected in April 2002. He contends that it provides adequate protections for the town’s water supply.
So far, however, he’s been unsuccessful in forcing a decision, with Judge Ossola and the Colorado Supreme Court rejecting motions that would have forced Carbondale to accept the April 2002 management plan.
[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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