Truce between Skico, county on Heatherbed
A compromise was reached yesterday between the Aspen Skiing Company and Pitkin County that will hopefully avert both a housing crisis and a potential environmental dilemma.
The county commissioners agreed to allow the Skico to house employees over the winter at the Heatherbed Lodge, located above Maroon Creek near the base of Aspen Highlands, despite concerns about whether its antiquated septic system can handle the dishwater and flushings of the 28 people who live there. In exchange, the company has agreed to hook into a nearby sewer line before June 1, 2001.
“This is something I can live with,” said County Commissioner Dorothea Farris after she heard assurances from Skico transportation and housing planner Chris Kiley that provisions had been taken to ensure the septic system is not overtaxed this winter.
That’s about as positive as any comment made on the compromise, which the commissioners approved with a unanimous vote.
The county and the company have been at odds over the Heatherbed for several months. The dispute dates back to June 1999, when the county agreed to allow the company to convert the 40-year-old lodge from a bed and breakfast into employee housing. One of the conditions of that approval was that the building’s septic system be replaced with a hookup to the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District sewer line, which runs about 120 feet from the lodge.
The cause of the trouble for the county can be found in the ordinance approving the conversion – it did not require the hookup until the Skico received a building permit for the renovations. The company managed to complete its renovations without a permit, so the hookup was never made and the septic system remained in place.
The trouble for the company began this summer when it showed up at the county planning department expecting a certificate of occupancy. County staff members balked at the idea of issuing the permit until the building was hooked into the sewer line.
Company officials said they didn’t realize it was a big deal and produced a report that said the septic system was working fine. The consultants who wrote the report for the Skico only looked at the system and its current viability, however; they did not look into whether the septic tanks were leaking or cracked underground.
“Given the age of the system and the lack of knowledge about what’s underground, we would like to see the building tied into the sewer system as soon as possible,” said Tom Dunlop, director of the county’s environmental health department. He recommended against any delays.
But the commissioners agreed to the compromise offered by Kiley. The company will be allowed to house its workers there this winter and complete the hookup next spring, when the building will be emptied for further renovation. Kiley said the extra time was appreciated, because everyone who is currently living in the Heatherbed would otherwise have to be temporarily relocated while the building is refitted.
“We’re doing everything we can to minimize the impacts of our residents on the septic system,” Kiley said.
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