RFTA’s midvalley trail gets past floodplain restrictions
A controversial section of a pedestrian trail to connect Aspen and Carbondale dodged a bullet Monday.Garfield County officials decided the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority can proceed with construction of a 412-mile section of trail between Hooks Lane and Catherine Bridge. The county asked RFTA earlier this month to either prove the trail was out of the floodplain or apply for a permit to work within the floodplain.An application review could have delayed the project by 60 to 90 days and jeopardized its completion this fall, according to RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship.RFTA contested whether Garfield County has regulatory power over work in the railroad corridor.”We really don’t think we are subject to oversight by the county,” Blankenship said. “That was our first line of defense.”RFTA’s legal counsel on railroad corridor issues, Charles Montange, wrote in the letter to Garfield County Attorney Don DeFord that the railroad corridor is “railbanked” with the federal Surface Transportation Board. That agency alone can regulate its activities in the corridor, including trail construction, Montange wrote. RFTA contends it is exempt from other federal, state and local regulations.Garfield County believed otherwise. County Planning Director Mark Bean said DeFord determined that if floodplain issues existed, RFTA would have to apply for a permit like any other party.The jurisdictional dispute was never resolved. RFTA was able to show the trail is higher than the water level expected in a 100-year flood – even though it contended it didn’t need to supply that evidence, Blankenship said.The agency’s engineering firm examined a survey of the railroad corridor and compared it to a Federal Emergency Management Agency floodplain map for the midvalley. That analysis showed the rail embankment, where the trail will be placed, is above the 100-year floodplain, according to Montange’s letter to DeFord.Bean said the analysis was ruled adequate to allow the trail construction.The floodplain issue was the latest controversy between RFTA and homeowners living across the Roaring Fork River from the proposed trail. Garfield County explored the floodplain issue after a homeowner lodged concerns about RFTA’s trail work.Several residents of a neighborhood on the river don’t want the trail constructed across from them. Homeowner Jim Duke, one of the most vocal foes, said he filed the complaint with Garfield County.The issue isn’t about keeping a trail away from his backyard, he said. He believes RFTA’s proposed trail will have an adverse impact on a wide variety of wildlife that has flocked to the corridor since trains stopped using it decades ago. Duke claimed a crew’s current salvage work on the corridor – removing the old rails and ties – has already scared off everything from deer to falcons that regularly used the area.He said the community would be better served by constructing a paved trail along old Highway 82, where users could tie into El Jebel restaurants and Crown Mountain Park. A dirt trail across the river would be appropriate, according to Duke.”It’s appropriate for a primitive trail, not injecting everybody who wants to take a bike ride,” Duke said.RFTA officials counter that they have to build the trail where they possess the land – and that’s the railroad corridor. RFTA budgeted $1.2 million for the Hooks Lane to Catherine Store stretch of trail. RFTA’s contractor, Aspen Earthmoving, is scheduled to start work this week. The trail is scheduled to be finished by the last half of October.The roughly four-mile stretch from Catherine Bridge to Carbondale is already completed. RFTA eventually plans to extend the trail to Glenwood Springs.Blankenship said most people enthusiastically embraced the completion of the 30-mile stretch from Aspen to Carbondale.”It’s just regretful it’s not viewed more positively by the people across the river,” Blankenship said.
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