Paul Andersen: It is time to unify the Roaring Fork Valley | AspenTimes.com

Paul Andersen: It is time to unify the Roaring Fork Valley

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

The political will is forming for nearly half the midvalley of the Roaring Fork to break ties with distant Eagle County and join with nearby Pitkin County.

"Our Valley Our Voice" is the Roaring Fork Valley's newest political activist group. Its mission: "To unify the Roaring Fork Valley by annexing the Eagle County part of the valley with Pitkin County."

This worthwhile effort to consolidate political representation for Roaring Fork Valley residents is led by local attorney Ken Ransford. Like me, Ransford lives in Eagle County, from which we often feel disenfranchised.

Ransford is joined by Tim Whitsitt, Cathy Click, Michael McVoy and Allyn Harvey — all reputable advocates for unifying the Roaring Fork and enabling better representation through localized political engagement.

All it takes, Ransford says, is a "yes" vote by a majority of voters in each county, which could be scheduled for the upcoming election in November.

That ballot issue entails complexities and obstacles, but it has the power to improve the way Eagle County residents in our valley deal with everything from land-use planning to jury duty.

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The land-use issue is obvious. Next time you drive to the Front Range, look at Vail/Edwards/Eagle development patterns and the way Interstate 70 bisects it with ribbons of concrete. Ask yourself if this is the blueprint you want to see for the Roaring Fork Valley.

That is why a strong, autonomous voice of self-direction has risen in the midvalley from citizens who feel their needs and views are not being effectively weighed by Eagle County. Consider the Eagle County approach to midvalley development.

The Tree Farm proposal at Willits, favored by Eagle County, is the tip of a looming iceberg that, if built, will add to a rapidly urbanizing midvalley. Left to Eagle County, the rural character most residents want to protect in the Roaring Fork is at risk.

A political alignment with Pitkin County would offer more cohesion for the emerging voice of the midvalley, especially since many midvalley Roaring Fork residents lived formerly in Aspen and Pitkin County, where they helped define community values.

Jury duty may seem like a trivial concern for breaking away from Eagle County, but it represents a required civic obligation that is inconvenient and punitive for those living in the Roaring Fork.

Where I live up the Frying Pan, a jury summons means a two-hour drive to Eagle for the selection process, with no option for public transportation. If you're chosen for a jury, it could mean several days of driving both directions at the cost of time, fuel and attitude.

Jury duty is a valuable experience. Observing the court system from the jury box is an eye-opener on the jurisprudence system and an education in the law. More important, it is a civic responsibility that should not be seen as onerous, but rather embraced wholeheartedly as community service.

Instead, driving back and forth to Eagle through the often precarious rock-fall gauntlet of Glenwood Canyon makes jury candidates from our valley hostile to the process and eager to be dismissed.

The compensation offered doesn't come close to covering "windshield time" and lost income. Pleas to hold court sessions at the Eagle County annex in El Jebel, which would make the commute for jurors in our valley reasonable, have fallen on deaf ears.

While Ransford allows the annexation is challenging, he cites that in 1988, 56 percent of Adams County voters agreed to let Denver County annex the land where DIA airport is today. In 1998, 61 percent of voters statewide agreed to create new Broomfield County.

The first task, Ransford states, is to convince the commissioners of each county to put this question on the ballot in November. If they refuse, a petition drive will be mounted. If 50 percent of the voters living in the affected area say "yes," the question goes on the ballot next November.

"Basalt, El Jebel, and Willits have more in common with Pitkin County than with Eagle, Edwards, or Vail," Ransford writes. "We share the same river, values, politics and community. We want development and cases to be decided by people who live here."

Paul Andersen's column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at andersen@rof.net.

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