Trying to find the middle ground in Aspen’s creeks | AspenTimes.com

Trying to find the middle ground in Aspen’s creeks

Aaron Hedge
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Rustin Gudim/Aspen Times fileDiversion of Maroon Creek's flows for a hydropower project remain under review in Aspen.

ASPEN – City staffers have asked the City Council to postpone further discussion and a potential decision on the Castle Creek hydropower project.

A recent staff memorandum to the council focuses on a citizen-led group trying to establish a middle ground between the project’s critics and its organizers. The group has made significant progress in its effort, but needs more time to finalize a plan of action. Staff recommended the discussion, scheduled for Tuesday night, be rescheduled for Nov. 8.

The hydropower plant originally planned to draw 25 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water from the stream, as well as 27 cfs from Maroon Creek. Skeptics have said the project would harm the health of the streams.

The citizen effort, organized by the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams board, will attempt to find a way to implement the initiative; city officials project substantial amounts of money would be saved in energy costs without harming the stream.

Talks have been under way for several months on how best to do that.

During a council meeting last month, City Manager Steve Barwick said the project would still be financially viable if less water was drawn from the creeks. The original plan would have reduced Castle Creek to about 14 cfs for as long as six months. But Barwick said if the city never drew the stream below 19 cfs, it would still save cash on energy purchased from a Nebraska power authority.

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The city based the 14 cfs figure on an environmental impact study of Castle Creek that said the stream would be significantly harmed if it dropped below 13.3 cfs.

City-generated financial projections under the originally proposed draw-down of the creeks show that the city would save hundreds of thousands of dollars every year once the bonds for the project are paid off in 28 years.

The city is not involved in the citizen effort, said Mayor Mick Ireland and Ruthie Brown, chairwoman of the Healthy Rivers and Streams board. But Ireland said in last month’s meeting that the city is supportive of the effort, which is utilizing the expertise of valley mediation contractors.

The project is among the first of the board’s initiatives. The board was commissioned in November 2008.

If the hydropower project is approved, construction would start next year. A drainline to transport water from Thomas Reservoir to the proposed site of the plant is under construction.

ahedge@aspentimes.com