Tony Vagneur: Ends to solar farm near Woody Creek don’t justify the means
September 7, 2018
If you live in or near Woody Creek, or in the Highway 82 corridor between the airport and Aspen Valley Ranch, it's getting close to sending up a white flag of surrender, or as my mom used to say, "Throwing in the towel."
Elam Gravel Pit thumps out a loud and steady drone of rock-shattering crunches, continually interrupted by the whine of overhead jets and planes, coming and going from the airport, 7 a.m. until well after dark. The hum of Highway 82 is constant; a crowded, daily reminder that not everyone rides a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus. And the buses, almost every one of them, pull into and out of the Brush Creek Intercept Lot across the Roaring Fork before going on to the next stop with a consistency that is a marvel to fathom.
Almost every large parcel of land in the Woody Creek canyon is for sale and even though conservation easements and other considerations limit the amount of possible development, residents aren't exactly thrilled with the prospect of ongoing construction traffic for the next millennia. Nobody pays millions of dollars for a big piece of land, then puts up a normal-sized house and is willing to exist without a pond or two. You can bet your bottom dollar on that.
Woody Creek and the McLain Flats area, including Brush Creek Village, is versatile and tenacious. Years back, the Vagneur family turned down a developer who wanted to put a golf course on what is now Chaparral Ranch. Woody Creekers banded together and convinced Pitkin Iron to put in a dumping station along Highway 82, across the Roaring Fork, rather than have those huge iron-ore trucks traveling Upper River Road. The W/J has remained a mecca for employee housing, and Brush Creek Village has to look at most everything going on down below.
We're not perfect, we've made a few mistakes, as someone will no doubt point out with sequacious satisfaction, but if you don't fight your own battles, you get run over. People in Woody Creek call themselves "creatures," and we are.
But the insidious spread of industrialization across the land is starting to reach the breaking point. Against the advice of its citizenry (the voters), the city of Aspen purchased 63 acres of land on a Woody Creek bench for a possible, future water reservoir. (Reminds me of a million-dollar turbine purchase the city made a few years ago.) This was to save the possibility of building dams in the Maroon and Castle Creek valleys, a laudable but concerning event. If there's nowhere else to put things, just dump them on the Woody Creek area.
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And now, flying almost under the radar (although a contract has already been signed with Holy Cross Energy), is a proposal to put myriad solar panels on 33 acres of land (owned by the Aspen Sanitation District), adjacent to W/J employee housing and the Rio Grande trail. According to the developer, Renewable Energy Systems, the Rio Grande Trail is classified as a "low-use" corridor. Try to sneak that by the thousands of riders, runners, hikers, etc., who use that trail each year. Just the bike traffic to the Woody Creek Tavern is something to behold.
If you have time, drag up Renewable Energy Systems' website and look at their poster-child video for solar energy! The 32-acre site in England is mind-boggling with its ability to block out everything but solar panels. Except for huge inverters and storage cells. Take a look — it's what its mammoth "solar farm" will look like over there by the W/J. You can see the site from Highway 82, from Brush Creek Village, from McLain Flats.
Many people have pointed out that Cozy Point represents the entrance to Aspen — a gateway, if you will — for air and land travel. Aspen wants to present a good image, people have said. Look at Cozy Point today: No matter how laudable they may be, it looks like a suburb of a Third World city with all the various activities going on.
But if you think that is less than inviting, think what a conglomeration of silver solar panels will look like on 33 acres of land (the equivalent of 25 football fields, or 12.7 Coors Fields), especially when the sun hits them just right. Are you looking, Highway 82 and Brush Creek Village? Overhead aircraft? This is totally out of character for the neighborhood.
And by the way, when questioned how this huge development will affect the established migration of wildlife through this "low use" area, especially elk, Renewable Energy Systems said simply that the elk can "walk around the fences."
Clearly, we need to examine all avenues of renewable energy and we need to become more self-sufficient, but we also need to remember that the ends don't necessarily justify the means, and it's fairly certain we don't need the big-corporate suits from Renewable Energy Systems mucking up the neighborhood and the main thoroughfare into Aspen.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
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