Huey D. Johnson: Guest opinion |

Huey D. Johnson: Guest opinion

Huey D. Johnson
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

I’ve been involved professionally in saving land for 45 years, and almost every year I have visited Aspen. The visits began when I went to work for the Nature Conservancy as the only employee west of the Mississippi.

Much of my work over those years involved battling development projects that would wreck natural landscapes. Aspen was different, a haven of beauty and peace, run by people who cared about the quality of the place and its effect on their lives.

On my annual visit to this wonderful refuge last year, I was appalled to learn that Mayor Mick Ireland wants to put in a hydroelectric operation that will ruin the perfection of Maroon Creek and Castle Creek. Any politician who would degrade these streams under the guise of saving money by diverting still more water would build a hotel and bar in the middle of Arlington National Cemetery with only the thought of profit in mind.

Aspen always has had the magic quality of being a place that speaks for nature. A worrisome change is that the people behind the ruining of Maroon and Castle creeks justify their actions using “energy.” They appear to be from the new breed of economic techies who claim to be environmentalists but do so without regard for the principles of conservation. Green profit is the objective, and declaring oneself to be an environmentalist offers a disguise.

Know that if this mayor can get away with wrecking a stream, someone else will come along and push the destruction further. Twenty high-rises in town, perhaps, or how about a nuclear plant to serve the Roaring Fork Valley? Maybe it would benefit the economy to have a facility that will burn outdated military poison gas. (There are jobs involved, you know.) My experience has taught me that typically such people see their moneymaking project as the only way and blunder through the execution enough that it costs the community a great deal.

Hydro diversions aren’t built without causing damage. In China, the Three Gorges Dam displaced 1.3 million people, and the forests and agricultural lands lost will lead to erosion and the buildup of sediment at the base of the river and reservoir. These conditions will lead to increased flooding upstream. And of course fish can no longer swim up or downstream because the dam threatens their populations and those of birds, such as cranes, that depend on them. As usual, the techie politicians didn’t do much homework about the downsides of the dam, which is taking all the river’s water and affecting the huge regions downstream.

Note the Jan. 31, article in England’s Guardian newspaper with a picture of what was China’s largest freshwater lake, 3,000-square-mile Poyang, now dry due to the Three Gorges Reservoir. ( Fishermen are out of luck. The U.S.’ own Nature Conservancy was a sadly pompous adviser to China on the project. It’s a sign of the decline of a once-great environmental organization that has been taken over by Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street power brokers.

In Aspen, alternatives include solar. Solar installations don’t have moving parts and don’t require ongoing high-cost maintenance. Aspen has some out-of-the-way, low-level lands that could fit solar development if the town needs alternative energy.

I would like to humbly remind you that the only thing that can stop politicians of this stripe is public opposition. The quality of peace and serenity of Aspen, its real value, was created by past and present generations of caring residents. It will take the integrity of those around now to save it for the future. Please be heard now.

Let’s hold the line on values that are timeless rather than give in to the whims of present-day economics and the politics of the moment.