‘Toxic Bob’ in a fight with Aspen neighbors over new development
A mining magnate blamed for one of the worst environmental disasters in Colorado history is in a battle to develop one of the most beautiful sites in Aspen.Robert Friedland, also known as “Toxic Bob,” wants to build a 15,000-square-foot house along with a caretaker unit, two sheds and a “bathing facility” in the Maroon Creek Valley. He was branded with his nickname by environmentalists over his role in the Summitville Mine debacle in southwest Colorado. State and federal officials claim cyanide from the gold mine seeped into the Alamosa River, creating a Superfund Site that taxpayers are still paying to clean up.Friedland’s Celestial Land Co. owns 35 acres at 3129 Maroon Creek Road, less than a half mile from the T Lazy 7 Ranch, about 3 miles southwest of Aspen. Celestial bought the property from Buck Deane, a member of the family that owns the ranch, in 2006, then sold all but a single house site.Friedland’s development plan, dubbed “The Eagle’s Nest” in an application to Pitkin County, has upset some of his wealthy neighbors, not because of aesthetics but because of environmental concerns.The Roaring Land & Cattle Co., a firm controlled by Tom and Margot Pritzker, whose family owns the Hyatt hotel chain, claimed in documents submitted to Pitkin County that Friedland’s proposed home is in a hazard area where three major debris flows have thundered down a gully three times in the last eight years.Developing in that debris flow cold trigger “possible adverse impacts” on the Roaring Fork Land & Cattle Co.’s 184-acre property to the east, according to a letter written to the county from their representative, planner Glenn Horn.Friedland’s house is at the base of steep terrain where a gully emerges from the slope. He intends to build a house off to one side of the alluvial fan created by debris from the gully to avoid a direct hit when rock, mud, water and debris could roar down in a particularly nasty rainstorm or during spring runoff. Friedland also will build a concrete wall to block the flow. His application contends that neighbors will benefit from that debris wall.The Pritzkers aren’t so sure. They fear the wall will just divert the debris somewhere else. They want Friedland to do more studies to determine where it will go and how it can be mitigated, before the county grants approval for the house. Other landowners in the wealthy neighborhood are also studying the issue for possible opposition during a review by the county hearing officer later this month.Pitkin County’s community development department consulted the Colorado Geological Survey for help assessing the debris flow threat. It is seeking an assessment from a state geological engineer to determine if Friedland’s proposed mitigation will save the Eagle’s Nest and neighboring properties from the threat of mudslides. The engineer said in her latest correspondence with the community development department, on July 13, that more investigation of the mitigation plan is needed. Friedland has been at odds with the state of Colorado over environmental issues in the past. A mining company he controlled called Galactic acquired the old Summitville gold mine in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado in 1984. The mine, which started in the 1870s, was considered “played out” using traditional mining tactics. Galactic used a new method called heap leaching where mounds of ore are bathed in cyanide to dissolve the gold, according to author Jacquie McNish, whose book “The Big Score” delves into Friedland’s mining and other business dealings.The state of Colorado alleged that a liner designed to contain the cyanide failed and that toxic metals seeped into the Alamosa River between 1985 and 1992. Summitville is now a Superfund site that has cost Colorado taxpayers between $35 million and $45 million to help clean up, according to court documents. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than $200 million has been spent at the Superfund site. This spring, $25 million from the Obama administration’s stimulus package was awarded to the Summitville site to replace a plant that treats acid-tainted water from the mine before it reaches the river.The state filed a lawsuit in 2001 against the companies associated with the mine to recover costs. Galactic and its subsidiaries declared bankruptcy years before, but Friedland agreed to a personal settlement where he contributed millions of dollars to the cleanup.The Summitville episode earned him the name “Toxic Bob” with environmentalists.Friedland remained in mining and has amassed an empire. One of his companies found one of the largest deposits of nickel in Labrador, Newfoundland. His company, Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. has interests in South America, Asia and Africa. Friedland was No. 301 on the Forbes list of the 400 Richest People in America in 2008. He had an estimated net worth then of $1.6 billion.Documents filed with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office tie Celestial Land Co. to Ivanhoe Mines Ltd.firstname.lastname@example.org
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UPDATE 5:27 p.m. — Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon has reopened in both directions Saturday evening after a safety closure due to a flash flood warning. There were no reported mud/debris slides.