Guest commentary: Pan and Fork questions deserve support, not rage
The misinformation regarding the Pan and Fork property reminds me of road rage. A handful of our residents are behaving very badly.
I have an inside view of the Pan and Fork situation, as both a member of a 2007 Basalt committee to plan for the property along the river bank and as the attorney who created the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity.
The Community Development Corp. had three goals when it jointly purchased the trailer park with the town: move the residents to safe ground, fix the flood risk and build a nonprofit campus like the Third Street Center it helped develop in Carbondale. All three have happened. The Community Development Corp. is a highly regarded nonprofit in Carbondale for the work on the Third Street Center. All along the Community Development Corp. has had similar, community-oriented goals with the Pan and Fork property in Basalt.
Downtown we could develop a high-end hotel and build dozens of micro-units for Aspen’s aging ski bums and budding millenials at the former Clark’s Market site where they can walk everywhere, including to a first-class park down by the river. Three residential projects are approved or already building nearly 200 residences in Basalt, most of them affordable. We’re about to see more construction in Basalt than we’ve seen since Willits was approved in 2001. The Town Council is not saying “no” to development.
The trailer park was thrown together hastily in a floodplain to house workers building Ruedi Reservoir in the 1960s. The trailers remained in the flood way. In high-water years, water was literally moving below the trailers. Any further development was banned until we fixed this problem.
McLaughlin & Rincon, a nationally recognized river engineering firm, estimated in 2004 it would cost $10 million to $12 million to bring the river up to code through Basalt ($13 million to $16 million in today’s dollars).
Basalt actually only needed $7 million solving the floodplain problem in 2014-15. Did the town have to spend the money when it did? I don’t know, but doing so allowed construction of the Rocky Mountain Institute Innovation Center. And Hurricane Katrina showed me that we avoid taking action about flood risks at our own peril.
Basalt spent $1 million moving the trailers, and the people behind the Community Development Corp. lent nearly $1 million to help 11 families buy replacement housing. Today, most of the students who were living at the Pan and Fork still attend Basalt schools, with about another 10 percent going to school in Glenwood Springs.
Basalt collaborated with the Community Development Corp. in purchasing the property in 2011. Basalt purchased 3 acres adjoining the river for $1.2 million with parks and open space dollars. It is in the floodway, and it flooded in the 2015 spring runoff just as the engineers designed it.
The Community Development Corp. borrowed $2 million in 2011 to buy 2.3 acres of the Pan and Fork, and has spent another $600,000 to pay for legal, engineering, and planning fees for various proposals since 2011. If the Community Development Corp. receives $2.9 million, that money will pay back the lenders plus about 2 percent interest. If the bond doesn’t pass, the Community Development Corp. still owns the property and it remains in limbo, like Groundhog Day.
The Pitkin and Eagle county open space boards have each committed to contribute $400,000 toward the park, or $800,000 total, and the remaining acre can still be developed. The cost to preserve and develop the 1.3 acres as a park could easily end up costing less than $5 million, not the many more millions opponents say it will cost.
But a handful of Basalt residents are just livid. But think about this: Four candidates who favor a park at the Pan and Fork site won in the Basalt Town Council election in April. The losers immediately demanded a recount. They have been physically escorted out of Basalt Town Council meetings by the police. Last week, they sued the town over an open-meetings violation.
The town says the 21-page complaint is bogus because the council was discussing former Town Manager Mike Scanlon’s contract. The open-meetings law specifically protects such personnel communications from disclosure.
We pay the Town Council members about $10,000 a year. I calculate that amounts to about $20 an hour. They are truly performing a public service, but now they are afraid to talk to each other.
Meanwhile, we should pass Referendums 2F and 2G, not only to build an awesome river park, but to support the Town Council members who referred it to us.
Vote for the Pan and Fork park proposal. Let’s prevent people acting like they have road rage from ruling the streets.
Ken Ransford is a longtime resident of the midvalley and a supporter of Questions 2F and 2G. He is writing a book on water issues that are a constant challenge locally as well as throughout Colorado.