Wendle Whiting

So there was this fire.

It was big, and close, and very real. Our bubble was poked but didn’t pop. Heroes did heroic things. A lot of words have been written about what happened, but I’m going to write about what could have happened and remind you of how you were lied to, and then you decided, based on that deliberate misinformation, that the security of our town was less important than the pocketbooks of the already wealthy, and it very nearly cost you your livelihood. This is not another praise-our-heroes column, this is a reminder of the shame the citizens of Aspen brought upon themselves; or rather, the damage that just a few people can do with a pen, and a lot of money, and a ton of avarice; much like the damage that can be done with a couple of tracer bullets.

Yeah, I’m still pissed. 

This last week-and-a-half, unfortunately, proved me correct about how you would likely regret the manipulation you accepted at the hands of a cadre of junior water-right holders on Castle and Maroon creeks, and in particular their goons, Maurice Emmer and Ward Hauenstein. Maurice and Ward nearly caused the economy of Aspen the most damage it has suffered since the infamous bomb threat of New Year’s Eve 2009. 

Maurice and Ward played a large role in having more than $7 million of your money tossed away, and that has very nearly cost the city, which is fundamentally “you,” much more. Together they raised a referendum that effectively lead to the city of Aspen having to abandon the completion of a safety backup to our clearly fragile energy supply system. The referendum purportedly funded by those who sued the city to gain control over our water rights; the worth of their junior water rights gaining value if the city’s senior water rights were vacated.

I will go back to the beginning.

Aspen gets its electrical energy from a few high-tension power lines that clump together near Basalt and travel upvalley on their way to Aspen. Holy Cross owns some of the lines that carry our energy from far and wide, the city of Aspen operates another line that carries power from our hydroelectric plant at Ruedi Reservoir. Together they provide the energy to power our dishwashers, heaters, air conditioners, lights, cell phones, water system, etc. The power lines are held up mostly by timber poles that are vulnerable to fire, chainsaws, dynamite, chains, cables and winches. This isn’t a letting-the-cat-out-of-the-bag revelation. This is a truth that was never hidden. People have been talking about the vulnerability of our electrical system for decades, Jim Markalunas being a prolific one, and an expert to boot. Myself an occasional exasperated commentator.

I understand it has been over nine years since the core of downtown was closed on its most lucrative night. Let me remind people of the economic devastation that James Blanning wreaked upon our town: remember that all of the waiters at every restaurant in town that were counting on a four-figure payout at the end of the night, went home with nothing. Realize that all of the restaurants that were expecting a five- and six-figure profit, instead lost money. Almost all of our economy on the most lucrative night of the year vaporized over the course of just a couple-hour long incident caused by one angry human.

The Lake Christine Fire started on the evening of July 3. At one point we were warned that the power could be off for at least three days because all of our power comes through one tiny, extremely vulnerable, pinch point. July 4th is the second busiest time of the year after New Year’s Eve. Having our downtown closed for three days over the July 4th holiday would have been a completely and utterly devastating event to happen to our economy.  

The city of Aspen spent over $7 million preparing and constructing the infrastructure for a hydroelectric plant that could have powered the core of Aspen by itself, locally, and been immune to the recent threat to our lifeblood. Maurice Emmer and Ward Hauenstien successfully fought to defeat the completion of the project. Had we now had that power plant, we would have been able to survive the economic devastation we so narrowly avoided last week. The truth that our safety and security is important to us, was overridden by the propaganda of those who stood to gain financially if the power plant, our backup plan, was defeated.

If the Lake Christine Fire had taken down our power, the blame for the subsequent economic disaster would completely lie at the feet of Maurice Emmer and Ward Hauenstein. The two of them orchestrated a takedown of a carefully considered and reasonable effort to provide energy independence for the core of the city of Aspen. They tricked you. You fell for it. And here we are, looking down the barrel of the gun that you pointed at yourself. Fortunately the trigger didn’t get pulled. This time.

At the time of this writing the estimates of the cost to fight the Lake Christine Fire amount to about half of the money that we lost due to the machinations of Maurice and Ward. We had invested at least twice the amount of money it has required to fight this fire in a plan that would have prevented the core of our town from losing our lights and water during an event like last week’s. But in the end we got nothing. We are as vulnerable as we have ever been.

How much more of your money are you willing to risk?