Guest Opinion: Pondering the future of South Canyon
March 9, 2018
In the very near future, the Glenwood Springs City Council is preparing to make a very important vote. This is a vote that could determine the future of South Canyon. The city will vote to turn control of South Canyon to a private developer with the option of a 100-year lease for much of the usable land inside this small and dangerous canyon.
For many, South Canyon is out of sight and out of mind. There are many people new to the community who have never even set foot in the area. While the canyon is certainly out of sight, it should not be out of your mind. I am asking the City Council to move this matter to a public vote and here are a few of my reasons why this is so important.
Glenwood owns one of two landfills in the entire Roaring Fork Valley. The landfill services most of our trash and some recycling needs. The landfill is profitable for the private lease operator. However, the landfill is a large loss to the city because a very poor lease was negotiated years earlier.
Now, instead of the community having the benefit of additional funds each year, it is now a net revenue loss just for the city. The lease is up for renewal in the very near future. There is even a possibility that the landfill could be closed. Instead of our community finishing the waste process properly, we will be using trucks to haul our waste elsewhere to be processed at a large cost. The price and environmental cost of handling our waste and recycle may escalate substantially.
The gun club operates as a different entity that is on a short-term lease subject to renewal. As a result, they cannot get any level of financing for a facility to bring the shooting into an enclosed and much safer facility such as the one in the town of Gypsum. Short-term leases make their future very uncertain.
There are many that wish this facility was closed even though it has been a shooting range for my entire life. I am sure there are many stories of errant bullets and shocking noises inside the canyon. How long can an outside gun range and a resort village coexist? Probably not long. For certain, the gun range will be forced to move and additional land will be available for some other purpose.
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The fire danger inside South Canyon is one of the highest levels anywhere in the state. The coal seam vents are a source of constant concern of fire danger. To complicate matters, there is a serious problem with invasive weeds and the cottonwood trees are mostly dead. In close proximity to two of the coal seam vents are the Three-Mile and Four-Mile drainage basins, as well as Garfield Creek. If a large forest fire occurs in any of these basins there could be mudslides and flooding, which could impact Midland Avenue.
The road and bridge into South Canyon is very undersized and is already used as a trash hauling route. In addition, there is a railroad crossing that seals the one and only route out of this canyon. There is also a steep grade immediately after the railroad crossing. The combination means that there is almost no chance of a proper evacuation route if the canyon is busy in the summer or icy in the winter.
The wildlife in South Canyon is very impressive. There are major established elk corridors. In addition, the bear population is staggering. Any substantial development will have large impacts on the wildlife. The wildlife will either voluntarily move out, or if they cause problems they will need to be forced out. The old wildlife in the canyon will be replaced by new-age animals — dogs and drones. This area was declared by the city as a protected wildlife area. This council, in essence, would be reversing the prior wisdom of previous councils by forcing the real wildlife to relocate.
There is a substantial geothermal source that may have many purposes including clean energy. Going forward, clean energy from geothermal and methane reproduction could be a source of major revenue streams if properly developed by the city in conjunction with their own electric system. Be aware of the close proximity of natural gas reserves and already established connections from Garfield Creek. Roads can and will be built if finances prove worthy. Williams Partners owns large stakes in Garfield Creek and they are a massive and very capable corporation. To be ignorant that they or others will not explore opportunities in the future is foolish.
Meanwhile South Canyon may represent a true opportunity for clean energy. The combination of methane, natural gas and geothermal already exists inside the canyon. What future opportunities will present themselves that really are green energy? I have no clue. But I do know the community may be passing up a rare opportunity to be the new energy frontier and better define how we want to live.
In my opinion, the history of South Canyon is very volatile and not predictable. There are so many unknowns and the risk for the city to entrust one private developer to control the future of South Canyon for the next 100 years is unfathomable. The plan that was presented does not respect the canyon.
However, this is my opinion only and that is why this matter should be left for a vote so that residents can decide their own future.
Long ago, our city leaders were very wise when they purchased land in South Canyon. However, management of the asset has been very poor since then and does not respect the power and fury that is South Canyon. Let us not make the mistake that coal miners made in the late 1800s that still haunt us to this day. I can only hope that we are a little smarter than we were 100 years earlier and not repeat our mistakes for future generations.
Craig Amichaux grew up in Glenwood Springs and is general manager and part owner at Ami's Acres Campground in West Glenwood.