Letter: Hydro misrepresentations by City Hall
November 13, 2014
A 2012 public vote rejected Castle Creek hydropower. The Aspen City Council told city management to stop spending money trying to complete the project. Yet city management continues to file reports with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission claiming it has taken numerous actions to advance the project.
Now city management is lobbying the City Council hard to complete the pipeline for Castle Creek hydropower. City management wants $750,000 for the pipeline. It has falsely represented this as required by the state dam inspector (see the letter to the editor "Emergency drainline needed at Thomas Reservoir," by David Hornbacher, in the Oct. 30 Aspen Times). The City Council and residents can easily detect who is telling the truth and who is not.
The city's arguments appeared in Hornbacher's letter at about the same time as a richly researched report by Brent Gardner-Smith. Gardner-Smith is an objective journalist who, unlike city management, has no dog in this fight. See his recent article in the Aspen Daily News "Case for completing the drain pipe not water tight" (Nov. 3). Compare statements by city Water Department chief Hornbacher and by Gardner-Smith:
Hornbacher: "A 2014 dam inspection report confirms the … need to complete an emergency drain." Gardner-Smith: "The state is not specifically requiring the city to finish its big pipeline, nor has it ever told the city the pipeline is required to safely operate the reservoir."
Hornbacher: "All alternative paths for overflow water risk damaging roads, structures, private and public property." Gardner-Smith: "A 2011 report by the city's consulting engineers, McLaughlin Water Engineers, states that 'it is unlikely that buildings or roads would receive damage as a result of a dam breach at Leonard Thomas Reservoir.'"
Hornbacher argues for a big drain line designed for hydropower whose use actually could undermine the dam's safety. Yet he concedes that "methods for a slow draining of Thomas Reservoir under normal circumstances already exist" (City Council: Take note). That is all that the dam inspector required, and a $750,000 spend isn't necessary. And according to the Colorado Dam Safety Manual, "The primary purpose of an outlet system is to provide for controlled release of the water from the reservoir behind the dam." That means a slow drain, not a huge pipe designed to feed the hydroelectric plant.
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Why would city management persist in these misrepresentations? That's easy. One, it won't sell the $1.6 million hydroelectric-plant turbine specially designed for the pipe it wishes to complete. If it completes the pipe, it would be easy to install the turbine, and voila, we have a stream-destroying hydroelectric plant. Two, the complacent City Council doesn't supervise city management.