Officials say an engineering firm working without proper city permits severed a main electric feeder line on East Hallam Street in Aspen on Monday, resulting in widespread power outages throughout the downtown core.
Outages began around 11:30 a.m. Monday and continued late into the night. City technicians and subcontractors were working to restore power as of press time, and City Manager Steve Barwick estimated the issue wouldn’t be resolved until 2 or 3 a.m. this morning.
As described by Mayor Steve Skadron — and confirmed by Barwick — a private business or homeowner hired a private firm to do excavation work. The firm did not receive the proper permits for the project, Barwick said.
According to city spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin, there was a phone call to the city at 11:52 a.m. from a person who said he was from LKP Engineering and that his crew had hit an electrical line. LKP Engineering Inc. is located in Edwards.
Skadron asked what kind of penalties the city will seek.
Barwick said he is not sure if the company’s liability will extend to all the businesses affected Monday. He added that almost all restaurants and stores north of Hallam were without power.
City Attorney Jim True said the city is exploring what violations are addressable in municipal court. Whether there are other claims — by individuals or the city — is a slightly different issue, but that also will be addressed.
Emily Kolbe, co-owner of Brunelleschi’s — whose wait and cooking staff left an empty restaurant at 6 p.m. — was particularly distraught. The restaurant’s walk-in cooler wasn’t working, so food was moved to the beer coolers. The pizza oven, which has to be primed for about 10 hours before a shift, was not working, either. She said she’s assuming that the city won’t fight for individual compensation.
“They’re not going to go after them to help us,” she said. “We pay rent. We pay taxes. We draw in sales taxes. How are they actually going to help the businesses?”
During an Aspen City Council work session, Skadron said the issue needs to be “addressed in a way so that a clear message is sent that this won’t happen again in the future.”
“The loss to the community, let alone our sales tax and the cash going into the pockets of our waiters and waitresses and restaurants who are paying rent, is extraordinary — and business on limited seasons like we have,” he said.
The Square Grouper on Aspen’s Restaurant Row was one of the few restaurants with power, though it did experience outages throughout the day. Bartender Rae Miller arrived around 11:30 a.m., and by 1 p.m., still without power, owners closed the business. She returned two hours later with the power restored.
“It’s been pretty mellow — nothing catastrophic at all, but it definitely shut down,” Miller said. “If it was Sunday brunch, we would’ve been screwed.”
The Grouper’s next-door neighbor Bootsy Bellows wasn’t so lucky, as the power had been out for nearly eight hours without any sign of relief.
Bartender Kristina Henrikson was sitting outside at 6 p.m. She couldn’t set up the bar because it was too dark to see. Owners were trying to line up a generator, but she wasn’t sure the bar would open at all. Because they were expecting a late-night crowd from Belly Up after a Rev. Run and DJ Ruckus show, she said a closure would be a shame.
“We always get hit between 11 and 12,” she said.
At El Rincon on Main Street, owner Aiden Wynn had to turn a couple away as the sun went down. He offered a few suggestions south of Hallam.
“Most people have been pretty cool with it,” he said, adding that the restaurant was without hot food all day. “We decided to stay open for happy hour. We did the best we could, and you can see how dark it is in here now. No power — El Rincon is still rocking.”
As crews worked to repair the line, there was potential for a full blackout. According to the city, the work took several hours of digging and anywhere from one to five hours of repair.