Utilities slicing through open space
The county’s top open space official says public land is paying the price for the new Base Village development in Snowmass Village.A new, beefed-up natural gas line is in the works for the Brush Creek Valley, in part to service what will be some 1 million square feet of new construction the Base Village project that voters approved last February.Natural gas company Kinder Morgan is trying to find the right place to dig a trench for the line, but Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Director Dale Will warns that the plans include passing through about $10 million worth of public open space.”It’s frustrating for us to be buying open space in the Brush Creek corridor, which is pretty pricey, and then have it treated as a utility corridor,” Will said.Holy Cross Energy is wrapping up a project to place a high-voltage underground power line through the valley, located where the county is set to build a public trail.”It was our intention of starting the bike trail as soon as Holy Cross was done, and now we have to figure out how the Kinder Morgan installation affects our schedule. They’re still trying to figure out its alignment,” Will said.Most recently, the natural gas company proposed a route from an existing facility at the Brush Creek intercept lot beneath Highway 82 through a parcel of recently purchased open space known as Cozy Point South. It would continue through private property in the valley, close to the creek, and through the Seven Star open space and a couple of conservation easements the county purchased in the past few years.”It’s like this monster has been approved in Snowmass Village, and now the consequence is that there is all of this infrastructure that needs to be carved out,” Will said.”Kinder Morgan is a fairly responsive company that wants to do things as well as they can,” Will said, “and I don’t want to blame this on just them, but the phenomenon is related to development in Snowmass Village. The development gets approved and then all the utilities are saying they have the right to condemn property so they can sell [their services] to the development. It’s open space that looks like it’ll pay the cost of it all.”Kinder Morgan must file a land-use application for easements in the area, but utility companies also can condemn property when they don’t get local approval for a project.Kinder Morgan Business Director Les Meyer said that would be a last resort. He said the project is just in its preliminary permitting and route-design stages.”Our goal is to work with the county and landowners as openly and honestly as we can,” he said. “We’ve taken a look at maps and had town hall meetings, and tried to look at this every way we could.”Kinder Morgan’s existing gas line to Snowmass Village is primarily beneath Brush Creek Road. The company does not want to unearth it for this project while construction at Base Village – dependent on the road for construction trucks – is under way. Meyer said the proposed pipeline would increase service in the Brush Creek Valley by up to 25 percent. He said the new line is indirectly related to the approval of the Base Village project.”We continually try to look into the future and be proactive enough to build a new line that will go up the valley and meets current and long-range plans,” he said. “The timing [of the new line] was affected by Base Village, and we waited until after voter approval to know more about the area and build a system that will meet their long-term service needs.”Will said it would have been helpful if the two utility companies had coordinated their projects when anticipating future utility needs, but there is also some concern about placing a high-pressure natural gas line in the same trench as a high-voltage power line. He said telecommunications company Qwest has told him it has no plans to add phone service in the area.So far, Meyer said, community members have been open-minded, and have given the company feedback and legitimate concerns.In a condemnation hearing, Will said, open space officials could ask whether there is a public need for the increased utility service and whether enough money is being offered for the easements on the land.Ultimately, Meyer said the company hopes to start construction of the new gas line on May 15 and have it finished by August.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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