Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday directed staff to communicate with local rafting outfitters about the large amount of debris being left behind or washing up on private property after logs are cut for river-clearing purposes.
Woody Creek resident Joe Henry, an author and music lyricist, spoke during the public-comment portion of the county’s regular meeting to complain that river-rafting companies aren’t being proper stewards of the river. He described the problem as “massive littering by the rafting companies.”
Henry has lived on property on the banks of the river for more than 40 years. In recent weeks, rafting companies, which are permitted by the county’s Open Space and Trails department, have been cutting downed trees along the Roaring Fork River, clearing the waterway for safety purposes, he said.
But there aren’t always enough cuts in the logs to make them small enough to float downstream, he said, finding some agreement from commissioners.
“They have no consideration as to where their leavings are going to end up,” he said. “If you can imagine coming home and finding a 12-foot log, 3 feet in diameter, on your doorstep — that’s happened a couple of times.”
He said that while rafting companies consider themselves stewards of the river, they are actually “stewards of their business.”
“Somebody has got to hold them responsible as to what they’re leaving behind,” Henry said.
In some instances, the outfitters have been doing their work on private property. Two years ago, he said, a tree fell next to his house. Rafting personnel came to cut it, leaving part of it in front of his deck, ruining his view plane.
When he asked the responsible company to come back and finish the job, they promised they would, but never returned. Henry said he had to pay someone else to take care of it.
Gary Tennenbaum, the county’s open space and trails director, said the rafting companies have a permit to “put in and take out” of the river through his department. Part of that permitting process requires them to be good neighbors to landowners and others along the river, he said.
However, the county has no specific authority to regulate the river-clearing impact on private property, he said.
Commissioner Patti Clapper and other commissioners suggested that Tennenbaum or staff in his department contact the rafting companies to explain the issue and suggest that they do a better job of cutting and clearing debris along the river.
The outfitters serve a purpose by clearing snags, not only for the rafting companies but also private recreationalists using their own vessels, Clapper said.
“We want to make sure we have a good working relationship” with the outfitters, she said.
“We can talk with them,” Tennenbaum said.
Commissioner Steve Child spoke of another Woody Creek resident who had the same issue with the rafting companies a few years ago after they were leaving large logs on his property. Child said there may need to be a wider discussion about the problem.
But Tennenbaum said he could handle the issue for now.
“They can do better at removing,” he said. “They can make more cuts. We can have a better conversation with them about how they remove snags in the river without impacting private property.”
In other business
• On first reading, commissioners also approved an intergovernmental agreement, also known as an IGA, with the city of Aspen for the funding of the long-awaited Castle Creek Trail project.
Tennenbaum, whose department is overseeing the project, said final cost estimates for the one-mile trail are still not ready, but should be available soon.
He said the purpose of the IGA is to “memorialize” the city’s commitment to the county project. About 20 percent of the trail — which will allow use by both pedestrians and cyclists between the Marolt Trail and the Aspen Country Day School location — will be within city limits.
Last year, the project was estimated at about $2.6 million. That number is expected to increase because of design changes and other factors.
The project is expected to begin sometime this year and will take up to 10 weeks, according to previous estimates. Gould Construction is the contractor.
• At the urging of Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, commissioners also approved a fireworks ban for all unincorporated areas of the county.
DiSalvo has said he began thinking about a fireworks ban earlier this year when he was in the midvalley area viewing the Lake Christine Fire burn scar. He also had in mind the numerous wildfires that plagued the state and other parts of the West last summer.
He first brought the idea to business leaders and commissioners in March, with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s annual Fourth of July fireworks show in mind. In April, ACRA announced it would not hold a fireworks show — the event draws thousands of locals and visitors to the downtown area — on the upcoming holiday. Instead, there will be a drone-laser event.
The decision, the business organization said, had more to do with the availability of the drone-laser show, which was to have been held on last year’s Fourth of July celebration amid the extreme drought. However, that event was canceled due to high winds.
The county’s ordinance gives DiSalvo the authority to allow a fireworks show later in the year, such as in the winter, if scientific evidence deems that the threat of wildfires is low. The measure does not ban fireworks in perpetuity and would have to be renewed on a year-to-year basis in accordance with state law.