Blumenthal: Dirty little secrets come out | AspenTimes.com

Blumenthal: Dirty little secrets come out

Mel Blumenthal

With Vietnam, Cambodia and Thanksgiving now in the rearview mirror, it's time to get back to work searching for local stories of interest and offering my take on what's going on behind the scenes. Just in time for this week's column, along come two such stories involving a cast of some of our favorite local characters.

The first involves Krabloonik, the village's long-term embarrassment that the powers that be have been protecting for many years in spite of a vast number of complaints from credible sources. Apparently it takes the Pitkin County district attorney finally stepping in to take a look at the allegations because our local elected and appointed representatives have been intent on protecting the kennel's owner, Dan MacEachen, through years of controversy and allegations of animal abuse.

From outward appearances during the past few years, things appeared to be on the mend under the management of Guy Courtney, who until recently was attempting to purchase the winter dogsledding operation and adjoining wild-game restaurant from MacEachen. But as recently revealed by Courtney and other eyewitnesses, MacEachen still maintained control, and the issues of abuse, although perhaps a bit tempered when Courtney and others were around, continued during parts of the day when others were not present.

Clearly Courtney's and the other mushers' hands are not clean. As we've recently learned, they were aware or strongly suspected that MacEachen was still mistreating the dogs but failed to blow the whistle. Perhaps the "jilted buyer" syndrome is now playing a role here, but in any event, better late than never with their whistleblowing.

However, the town, which owns the Krabloonik property and leases it to MacEachen, has the dirtiest hands of all. As the property's landlord, it has clauses in its lease with MacEachen that prohibit illegal activity, but it has continued to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to all the numerous complaints while hiding behind the excuse that no formal police reports have ever been filed.

Since when does our or any other police department wait to investigate possible criminal activity until someone files a police report? The leadership at the town level — starting with the town manager, police chief, mayor and Town Council — has been deplorable in investigating the numerous claims of animal abuse. The only conclusion I can come to is that the good-ol'-boy network has been intent on protecting MacEachen and whatever misguided value it thinks Krabloonik brings to the Snowmass tourist experience, irrespective of the claims of animal abuse going on at the town-owned site.

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Thanks to council members Markey Butler and Jason Haber and the Pitkin County district attorney for finally bucking the company line and insisting that the town and county look into these serious allegations, and shame on all the others in a position to act for standing on the sidelines all these years with their eyes and ears shut tight.

The second dirty little secret in our community involves Aspen Skiing Co. and its claim that it has the exclusive right to operate ski-rental and -sales stores in Base Village and that no one else can do so unless granted permission by Skico. Since Skico now owns a couple of sales and rental operations, it does not appear that it's likely to grant permission to others to compete with them.

No one I've spoken to remembers any such monopolistic/anti-competitive restriction having been approved as part of the original Base Village approvals, but Skico claims it put such a restriction in place well before it sold out its ownership and development interest in Base Village.

As a matter of fact, the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions for Commercial Units in Base Village makes no mention of Skico's claimed exclusivity but does contain a clause that says, "No provision of this Commercial Covenant shall be construed to create a right of exclusivity to any Owner or Commercial Unit."

Notwithstanding Skico's claims of exclusivity, which perhaps are hidden away in some other document that the town might never have agreed to prior to Skico bailing on its Base Village development obligations, the town is now in the position of correcting this egregious anti-competitive situation.

Skico is currently in the process of applying for the right to convert one of the approved Base Village buildings into a Limelight Hotel operation, similar to the one it owns in Aspen, including 18 free-market condos and a private club along the lines of its Aspen Mountain Club, as well as the go-ahead to commence building its very upscale free market Fanny Hill Townhome complex well ahead of its contractual right to do so.

As part of this current approval process, the town should make sure that any remnant of this anti-competitive/monopolistic restriction is removed before any further approvals are granted to Skico.

It also might be a good idea for the town to make sure there are no other dirty little Skico secrets hidden away in the huge volumes of Base Village approval documents just waiting to bite us in the ass one of these days.

You can pass on any dirty little secrets you uncover to secondview@earthlink.net.