CB News Candidates Forum brings out town council issues - Part 1
Written by Mark Reaman   
Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Balance, traffic flow, Red Lady and HCCA


(Editor’s note: Given the length of the forum and candidate responses, we are breaking the report on the Candidates’ Forum into two stories. This is part one. Next week, we will print the rest of the story, which includes thoughts on sustainability, sales tax and a plastic bag ban...)

For almost two hours on Wednesday, October 9, seven Crested Butte citizens hoping to be representatives on the Town Council answered questions from the public. Local citizens—people who have lived in the area from two weeks to 40 years—wanted to know about parking and traffic fixes, sales tax, a potential plastic bag ban, a possible mine, how the council can promote more sustainability and how council meetings can be briefer. What wasn’t asked was anything about the ski area or retail marijuana outlets.

 

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Mayoral candidates Aaron Huckstep and Jeremy Rubingh, along with council candidates Jim Schmidt, Roland Mason, Chris Ladoulis, Danica Ramgoolam and Josh Schumacher, all answered the queries from more than 100 people at the Center for the Arts and perhaps millions more listening to KBUT streaming the forum on the world wide web.
After each candidate had a chance to tell the audience why he or she loved the town, moderator Denis Hall started off by asking Rubingh and Huckstep about their perception of balance within the community. Rubingh said it was important to include everyone in community discussions. “There should be a process that engages second-home owners and locals,” he said. “Perhaps a committee of second-home owners could be formed that meets regularly with the council to express their opinions.”
Huckstep agreed that second-home owners were an important part of the valley. “We are a community at heart,” he said. “When we talk about the public process we need to provide ways for everyone to engage. I’m not sure we need a new committee but I think there might be an opportunity for the chamber of commerce to engage everyone.

Traffic issues
Longtime Crested Butte resident Ceil Murray asked the candidates about the increasing summer traffic in town and wondered if there could be some direct access to the northwest side of town.
Ramgoolam told Murray that the town was planning to fund a transportation study “to see what the experts say about traffic flow in town. The idea of a bridge on Gothic Avenue has been discussed,” she said.
“I’m open to any new ideas,” Ramgoolam said.
Schmidt said the Butte Avenue bridge that already spans Coal Creek was installed to handle vehicle traffic even though it is only wide enough to handle one car at a time. “New bridges are ridiculously expensive,” he said. “The last time this was brought up, the people living over there by the bridge didn’t want to open it to vehicles. But we all need to share the pain as well as the benefits of Crested Butte.”
Ladoulis agreed that new infrastructure would be expensive. “I like the idea of a new transportation study,” he said. “July is a super busy month. If we continue to grow, we’ll need to smooth it out. Managing traffic is part of it. We want people to have a good experience.”
Mason has been pushing the transportation study for months as a councilperson. “I think we’ll continue to see more people coming here in the summer and we need to look at ways to accommodate them.”
“The council has to consider where traffic would get pushed and diverted with any new action, so I think we need the study,” echoed Schumacher.
“It is residential over there on Butte and normally I think of trying to keep traffic in our business area,” said Rubingh. “It will be great to do the study. Parking in town needs to be looked at as well.”
“It is critical for the town to plan their work and work their plan,” said Huckstep. “That’s why the study is important. The issue has more than one front—traffic flow, public transportation, parking. Do we expand the Mountain Express route in town? Maybe the RTA can look at Crested Butte South. The issues aren’t just restricted to the town of Crested Butte.”
Cathy Steinberger asked where the council might put additional parking. She said the proposed location of a new 30-unit affordable housing project would be a good place, given the situation when there are performances at the nearby Center for the Arts.
“In mountain towns if you don’t have a parking problem or a housing problem then you have a real problem,” said Rubingh. “As for the current council allocating money for a project on that parcel of land, it seems like the council made a hasty decision on giving community funds toward that property without a lot of public input opportunity. We need to really look at that.”
Mason explained that a comprehensive transportation study would “give us ideas about where parking can go. We can then take it to the public for their input. I think right now we are all realizing we need more parking.”
“Just like Jeremy said, the only thing worse than not enough parking is too much parking,” said Huckstep. “Having that affordable housing project next to a bus stop and public transportation will really help.”

Now, about the mine and HCCA...
Sue Wallace brought up the issue of a potential mine on Mt. Emmons and the propriety of keeping the public in the loop of any ongoing talks with the mine owners.
Ramgoolam pointed out she was a HCCA Red Lady and said, “I want to see the mine have a permanent solution. The wastewater treatment plant is an obstacle. But we need to have everyone at the table during these talks. That includes HCCA and the Red Lady Coalition. If negotiations are done in a closed environment, then who knows what solutions might come out?”
Schmidt said he has been in the valley 37 years and mine discussions have been going on for 36 years. “The town has been in discussions with the company the last several years,” he said. “We constantly ask that more people be allowed to be brought into the discussions. I can’t say much more about it because of the advice we’ve received from the attorney.”
“We cannot opine on the issue because council members have a role as a quasi-judicial authority in the watershed permitting process,” explained Huckstep. “But let me say that as I walk around town campaigning, I haven’t talked to anyone in favor of a mine on Mt. Emmons. Now, I view myself as a pragmatic diplomat. I’m not afraid to talk to people I don’t see eye-to-eye with. With respect to talks with U.S. Energy, it is sensitive, delicate and extremely important.”
Then former councilman Skip Berkshire gave an impassioned plea to the audience for them to understand the constraints put on the council. “They have to be perceived as being unbiased or they could lose local control of the permitting process to a judge,” he said. “It could end up going to court. We all need to respect the fact that the council has to walk a fine, delicate line.”
“It is important to do that,” agreed Rubingh. “But this issue is important to a lot of people. I think as we move forward to a solution, we need to involve all the parties. We need to engage and bring in the people and organizations that have experience,” he said, apparently alluding to HCCA. “We need a coalition of partners.”
“Let’s be clear,” retorted Huckstep. “There have been allegations that I am acting as a Lone Ranger. That’s wrong. This cannot be up to one person or one group to solve. Whatever comes of any talks will come to the public. Like Jeremy said, we will have to engage third-party professionals.”
Citizen David Grey said it appeared that the talks with the mine went from a somewhat public forum to proprietary about 18 months ago.
“We’ve been advised to take a very conservative approach to this,” said Huckstep. “It is delicate and complex. HCCA plays an important role but the town plays a different role. We don’t want to lose local control in our watershed.”
“It was U.S. Energy that made the big public splash about two years ago,” said Schmidt. “And then Congress couldn’t act on the proposed land trade. But we have continued discussions and it has been our constant request to U.S. Energy to involve all the parties we can and provide as much public information as we can.”
Next week we will report on the rest of the questions brought up at the forum.