Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw |

Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw

Andy Stone
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

I have to admit that I am flummoxed (love that word) by the city’s planned hydroelectric plant.

I’ve been reading the stories and editorials and letters to the editor. I’ve even allowed myself to be harangued (love that word, too) on occasion by people on both sides of the issue.

And, with Election Day looming, I’m still not certain who’s right and who’s wrong.

I almost have been persuaded that the city has skated on some pretty thin ice in the deal.

But even though I don’t approve of anyone cutting corners, those ethical issues don’t necessarily mean that the project itself is all wrong.

If you jaywalk on your way to the bank, it doesn’t mean you’re a bank robber. It doesn’t even mean that the check you cashed is going to bounce. It just means you really ought to be a little more careful crossing the street.

And by the same token (or, at least, a similar token), the fact that a lot of the people objecting to the hydroplant happen to live along the rivers that will be affected doesn’t mean that their objections are worthless.

But ethical lapses and NIMBY rhetoric aside, the arguments on both sides of the issue are strong and complex.

What are we saving? What are we destroying?

Who (OK, whom) can we trust?

I notice that I have an automatic little twitch of suspicion when I see organizations from outside our little valley community chiming in on one side or the other of a local debate.

Who are these outsiders, I wonder? Who asked them to stomp in here?

And, to digress for a moment, I noticed myself having that same little twitch, when I read that the Skico’s Burnt Mountain trail project was being blocked by a lawsuit filed by an organization in Pinedale, Wyo.

Still on Burnt Mountain – bear with me for a moment here – I wondered why an organization in Wyoming would care so much about trees on one of our ski mountains.

I found an excellent Aspen Times article about that Wyoming organization, the Ark Initiative, and its executive director, Donald Duerr.

According to the story, Duerr seems to be a bit of a cranky loner in the environmental movement, and his organization has apparently done very little except for the Burnt Mountain lawsuits and some scattered comments opposing a couple of timber sales in Wyoming and South Dakota.

Beyond that, a solid half hour on Google revealed almost nothing else about the organization.

But there was one comment on The Aspen Times article. It was posted by the “Tea Party of Aspen,” and it proclaimed Duerr a hero for standing up to the Skico – and the comment was linked to a petition supporting former ski instructor Lee Mulcahy in his long-running battle with the Skico.

And that, believe it or not, takes us back to the Aspen hydroplant.

Because even as I try to sort out my own thoughts on the project, the one thing that continues to bother me is the fiercely determined anonymity of a new group opposing the project.

That group, Aspen Citizens Committee, mailed a flier to local residents attacking the project. And through its Denver attorney, the group said it considers itself exempt from any regulations requiring it to reveal who is funding its campaign.

In this, it is acting exactly like a group that originally fought to get an anti-hydroelectric issue on the ballot. That group, Saving Our Streams, which worked to defeat the project, similarly claimed it was not required to say where its money came from.

Now I am all in favor of protecting free speech – and the more reckless it is, the more it needs protection.

But anonymity raises interesting questions, particularly when we’re wrestling with an issue as complicated as this one.

This little squabble, after all, crosses a lot of the usual fracture lines. We have environmentalists in favor of the project (“Stop global warming! No more coal-powered electric plants!”). And we have environmentalists against it (“Protect our rivers! No more water diversions!”).

At times like this, it’s nice to be able to consider who is making those arguments.

If I can jump back to the Burnt Mountain issue for a moment, The Aspen Times’ story quoted Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop, explaining why his organization wasn’t fighting Skico on this one.

Shoemaker and the Wilderness Workshop have earned my trust and respect over the years, so, if I had any questions, his comments helped settle my mind.

And when I read the one comment on the Times website supporting the Ark Initiative in its anti-Skico battle, it was also helpful to be able to trace that comment back to a known and relentless anti-Skico gadfly.

They say you’re known by the company you keep – and when the company you’re keeping is “people making anonymous contributions to political campaigns” … well, you’re not winning my vote. That’s for sure.

In light of that, I offer a quick salute to Bruce Berger, who lives high above Castle Creek and is firmly opposed to the hydroelectric project. Berger wrote a letter to the editor stating his objections clearly and intelligently – and then followed it a few days later with a second letter, saying he really wished that the Citizens Committee would either reveal the names of its backers or get out of the election, because the committee’s anonymity was making all the project’s opponents look bad.

Well done, sir.

And I can’t resist pointing out that those who are defending the right to anonymity insist that people who oppose the city need to keep their identities secret because of the fear of “retaliation.”

That’s a sneaky little “two-fer,” a double cheap shot.

They attack the city’s project as an evil destructive force – and then slip in an extra attack on the city as a vindictive beast that will destroy anyone who opposes it.

Put it all together, and it’s almost enough to convince me that the hydroelectric project must be a great idea.

If only because of the masked mob opposing it.

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