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Tim McFlynn and Ruthie Brown: Guest opinion

Tim McFlynn and Ruthie BrownSpecial to The Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

Acting locally to address global climate change, Aspen has made impressive strides through its Canary Initiative to wean its municipal utility from fossil fuel sources of electricity. Moving 7 percent closer to that 100 percent renewable goal was the inspiration for the proposed Castle Creek Hydro Plant. But a backlash has emerged focusing upon the collateral impacts to Maroon and Castle Creek and questioning the city’s choice to avoid full federal environmental review and licensing. These neighborhood complaints have become a community-wide concern. American Rivers, Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited, Western Rivers Institute, the U.S. Forest Service and most local citizens who submitted comments oppose the city’s attempt to be exempt from licensing and environmental impact analysis by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. American Rivers not only opposes the city’s request, it offers to help the city “do hydro right.”In response to this backlash, City Council has postponed its land use approval hearing until July 11 so that a community process can continue to play out. The first step is complete. Independent experts reviewed the city’s proposal thanks to funding and leadership by our volunteer Pitkin County Healthy Rivers & Streams Board. These outside experts’ reports made several constructive recommendations. They also revealed potentially significant discrepancies in projected streamflows, based upon differing methodologies, that could erroneously project power and revenue generation as well as the impacts of streamflow diversions. The city and outside experts are well along in their efforts to resolve these discrepancies.The second step is an all-day, professionally facilitated community mediation session at the Institute next week. Experts in hydropower, healthy rivers, water law and renewable energy will meet privately with a few landowners, nonprofit and community leaders and city of Aspen senior staff. The goal is a candid exchange through which to explore improvements to the hydropower proposal that might respond to these community concerns.Following next week’s small meeting, there will be a public community forum on the important issues presented by this hydropower proposal. Such a forum where all points of view can be fully aired has been recommended by Mr. Owen Olpin, the neutral mediator, and has the support of both the city and the concerned landowners. The goals of each of these steps is to attempt to develop consensus on the correct path forward for the city. That path should responsibly advance the renewable energy goals of the Canary Initiative. It should be suitably protective of healthy year-round flows in Castle and Maroon creeks and demonstrably cost-effective for city tax and rate-payers. Teachable moments abound. All renewable energy installations will have collateral impacts that communities will need to manage and then learn to live with. And Aspen along with all other communities will need to get far, far more serious about reducing demand through incentives and penalties that produce real energy conservation and efficiency. But on the electricity supply side, across our valley and throughout the West, solar and wind turbine arrays need to brought to scale, biomass and micro-hydro plants need to be sited wisely, and new networks of transmission lines need to connect all these local renewable energy sources to demand. Since land use codes will need to be revised and neighborhoods as well as regions will need to plan together, community leaders will need to listen constructively to the conflicting viewpoints and facilitate civic debate and discourse. In short, we will either need new forums for civic diplomacy or larger courthouses for civil litigation. As the co-conveners, we are simply facilitating healthy discussion to the end that well-informed and wise decisions will be made by our elected officials. In facing the challenges of this new energy economy, all citizens are stakeholders in the integrity of the public process and in outcomes that respect and then harmonize local community values.

Snowmass resident Tim McFlynn chairs the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board and is a professional mediator in Aspen. Ruthie Brown, of Aspen, serves on the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers & Streams board and is the granddaughter of the founder of the first hydroelectric plant west of the Mississippi in the 1890s in Aspen.


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