Another flier attacking the city’s hydro plant proposal has hit local mailboxes, while an attorney representing the mystery group behind it informed the city they have no intention of filing campaign finance disclosure forms.
The latest flier from Aspen Citizens Committee warns its recipients that “By the city’s own numbers, the Castle Creek hydro plant will result in the city taking half or more of the flows of Maroon Creek for six or more months per year, and drawing the stream down to minimum flows for up to 10 months per year. That’s over 6 miles of ugly dry creek bed running through the city of Aspen.”
The numbers the flier refers to are the projected cumulative impact of existing diversions for a hydropower facility built in the 1980s on Maroon Creek, plus additional diversions for the new Castle Creek project. As it is today, the city draws the creek down to the minimum stream flow of 14 cubic feet per second (cfs) below its diversion structure for eight months in an average year, and 10 months in a dry year, according to information submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Stream flows in Maroon Creek also shoot back up after water is returned to the stream below the existing hydropower plant, about 1 mile down from the diversion structure. While water that would be diverted to the Castle Creek Energy Center would never return to Maroon Creek, the flier is misleading in its suggestion that the project will leave the stream dry, since the state requires a minimum stream flow in Maroon Creek of at least 14 cfs. Also, the draw-down to the minimum stream flow of 14 cfs occurs over about 1 mile of the creek, since water is added back in below the existing hydro plant, not 6 miles, which is the distance between the diversion and the confluence with the Roaring Fork River.
Numerous known opponents of the Castle Creek Energy Center said they have no idea who is behind the Aspen Citizens Committee, which has now sent out two mailers to Aspen residents in the last two weeks. The flier lists a P.O. box as a return address, and has no other information about Aspen Citizens Committee.
City officials sent the group a letter last week requesting that it register as an issue committee, since it had apparently spent more than $200 on communications related to a Nov. 6 vote when residents will be asked whether they want the city to continue pursuing the project. By state law, issue committees must keep track of their fundraising and expenses, and file reports during election season.
An attorney representing the group replied in writing on Monday to the city, arguing that Aspen Citizens Committee has no legal obligation to register as an issue committee and comply with campaign finance laws.
The letter from Denver attorney Jason R. Dunn states that since the vote on the hydro plant is “advisory,” and lacks the legal teeth to change any laws or bind future city councils, “there is no ‘issue’ upon which [Aspen Citizens Committee] could advocate for or against.”
Dunn works for the law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which has offices in Denver and 11 other cities, and his letter says his firm was hired by the as-yet unknown leaders of the Aspen Citizens Committee to respond to the city’s request that it register and comply with campaign finance laws. Dunn could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Dunn’s letter says Aspen Citizens Committee is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit “social welfare organization” that is committed to fighting both the hydro plant and any other future diversions from the creeks.
“[Aspen Citizens Committee] was not formed for the purpose of advocating for or against the advisory question, and it does not have a major purpose of doing so,” Dunn’s letter says.
However, the group’s first flier, sent last month, carried the headline “Before you vote, know the truth.” But neither that flier, nor the latest one, mentioned the ballot question by its formal name (Referendum 2C) or the election date of Nov. 6.
Aspen City Attorney Jim True said the city has “received the letter and we are reviewing their positions.”
Dunn represented another nonprofit group that sprung up to oppose the hydro plant — Saving Our Streams. That organizations took out full-page newspaper ads over the course of a month last winter to encourage people to sign a petition against the hydro plant. When the city asked that Saving Our Streams register as an issue committee, Dunn sent a similar letter arguing that the law does not require such a move.
Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland has said he believes that much of the opposition to the hydro plant is being funded by Bill Koch, a local property owner who also owns coal mines near Paonia. Koch is a plaintiff in a lawsuit that seeks to strip the city of its water rights for hydropower. Aspen citizens might think differently about the ads against a renewable energy project if they knew they were being paid for by interests connected to coal mining, Ireland said.
A group dedicated to supporting the advisory question, calling itself Backyard Energy, has made full campaign finance disclosure a part of its platform.
Dick Butera, another plaintiff in the lawsuit over the hydro water rights, said it shouldn’t matter who is funding the messaging for or against the hydro plant. All that matters, he said, is whether the claims expressed are truthful or not. Concerns about who is funding the effort are “inside baseball,” he said, and only matter to about 10 percent of the electorate, he said.