Concerns in crowded neighborhood
[ by Mark Reaman ]
By a 5-2 vote, the Crested Butte town council on Monday decided to eliminate RV Dump Station services this summer. Council agreed to not open the station given its location close to a residential neighborhood, so there will not be a place for recreational vehicles to dump their waste in the north valley for at least a year when another location might be developed…or not.
Gunnison County commissioner Roland Mason expressed concern after the vote that the council decision might push the idea of a new RV Dump location in the upper valley off the regional priority list.
The town community development department held a couple of what has been described as contentious neighborhood meetings trying to find a solution to the issue. There is some worry that without an official place to dump their waste, some backcountry campers might just leave it in the nearby public lands. Every indication is that the backcountry near Crested Butte will be filled with campers this coming summer. But neighbors cited safety concerns as the top priority and worried about kids and pets falling victim to careless drivers and at least one pet was reportedly killed by a speeding RV last summer.
Crested Butte town planner Mel Yemma gave some background explaining that the RV Dump was located right next to the wastewater treatment plant that has been in the current location for many decades. But the nearby neighborhood is now close to being built out and residents are feeling the impacts of the sewer plant. “Given the consistency of waste from RVs, we can’t really move the dump station somewhere else,” she explained. “It needs the high flow of the system to push it to the treatment facility.”
Gunnison Forest district ranger Matt McCombs told the council that last summer saw a 300-percent increase in camping activity in the north valley. He said there is every reason to believe the backcountry will be similarly impacted in the coming summer. “There is a steady drumbeat of interest from people wanting to camp this summer in and around Crested Butte. We should all expect to see increased pressure on the nearby public lands.”
He said if there were no dump station in the north valley, he would expect some “bad actors” who would just dispose of it in the backcountry. “Having the RV Dump Station gives the opportunity for people to be good actors in the area,” he said.
McCombs, like Mason, expressed disappointment in the decision after the vote but hoped a long-term solution would be pursued.
Yemma said the regional STOR (Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation) committee had agreed that a plan should be formulated to move the facility from the Crested Butte neighborhood but that would not be a quick move and no specific place for the move had been designated. A STOR subcommittee is scheduled to discuss the issue on April 13.
For the short-term, Yemma presented the town with five alternatives, three of which offered different routes directing RVs to the dump site. The other two were either “Do Nothing” or “Close the station.”
The staff recommendation was to offer the service but direct RVs to a controlled entry at the dump after queueing up on Eighth Street. “It’s not perfect,” said Yemma. “But it mitigates some of the issues while working with our regional partners to find a long-term solution.”
Mason told the council that the county, like the Forest Service, was interested in getting to that long-term solution but hoped mitigation measures could be put in place to keep the amenity going. “It is a problem and the county is willing to be at the table and have the discussion,” he said.
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell suggested one alternative might be to somehow integrate an RV Dump Station as part of the new bus facility being designed by the RTA and Mountain Express in the Whetstone Industrial Park by Riverland. “The idea is to eventually have a dump station on the site for the bus that goes to Denver and Montrose,” she said. “Perhaps it can be modified to accept RVs. I don’t know if that is possible there.”
“It could be another piece of the puzzle and is worth more conversation,” agreed Mason. “It is an option to explore but I have no idea how it would shake out.”
“As for town, I think safety before visitor convenience is a priority,” said councilperson Jason MacMillan. “It is just a matter of time before someone gets hurt. It will just get busier and even with mitigation measures, in three or four years we will be back to where we are now. Hopefully someplace south of town will be found but talking to people in the neighborhood and being the father of a 4-year-old, I hear the safety concerns.”
“It is definitely an impossible task,” said councilwoman Mona Merrill. “I don’t feel we can just shut it down tomorrow.”
Mayor Jim Schmidt said he had talked to Gunnison city manager Russ Forrest and learned the city is expanding its RV Dump Station beginning this fall. He reported that it would be able to handle additional traffic and work on the project would start in September.
Neighbor Johnna Bernholtz said, “Everyone wishes it would go away. It shouldn’t be in a neighborhood with families and kids. It is unsafe. RVs are travelling too fast.” She said from a mitigation standpoint she liked the second alternative offered by town staff that queued the RVs on Butte Avenue.
Neighbor Kat Carpenter said the town’s preferred option 1 made sense since it had a controlled entrance. She felt given the potential environmental ramifications, the site should remain open.
Jillian Lieble said she was in favor of closing the site altogether or using the town’s option number 1.
Kent Cowherd liked option 2 saying it was the least impactful alternative for the short-term.
Ben Diem told council he personally had travelled 28 miles to dump his RV waste near Paonia and paid a whopping $40 for the privilege and was fine with it.
Tara Wirsing emphasized the safety concerns given the amount of RVs that plowed through the neighborhood last summer. “I’m in favor of closing it and doing another one outside of town. Move it to a safer place,” she said.
Mimi Chatwood said kids and bicyclists were at risk with speeding RVs. She said she witnessed a pet get struck and killed by an RV last summer. “Gunnison is a mere 28 minutes away,” she said. “They can drive down there to save someone’s life.”
Town manager Dara MacDonald told the council the safety and traffic concerns were a big issue so the “Do Nothing” alternative was the staff’s least favorite option.
“It is insane to spend $45,000 on temporarily mitigating an RV Dump,” said councilwoman Laura Mitchell. “I think it should be closed. People will drive with their crap anyway.”
“I think it should be closed too,” said councilwoman Mallika Magner. “If people dump their waste in the backcountry, they are that type of person anyway. That neighborhood is one of the last local neighborhoods in town.”
“I don’t think we should close it yet,” said councilman Will Dujardin. “Let’s figure out one of the mitigation options and give it time to get dialed in. An RV dump station is a critical piece of infrastructure in the north end of the valley.”
“I would like to see it out of town in the future,” said councilman Chris Haver. “But I struggle with this. I don’t like it in the neighborhood. It is hard spending that $45,000 if we pull out in a year or two. I don’t know how many people this will cause to drop their waste in the backcountry.”
“The hardest thing about being a tourist town is the impacts of tourism,” said mayor Jim Schmidt. “We don’t want the bad things that come with tourism but tourism is what keeps the town, the businesses here running. My preference is to keep it going for awhile and find a long-term solution.”
“I feel we should give people fair warning and let the Gunnison expansion happen,” said Merrill. “I want it to go away but is it tomorrow or two years from now?”
“How much is enough for tourism,” asked Mitchell. “It is a great amenity but it is not in the right place at the right time.”
Magner made a motion to not open the RV Dump Station. It passed 5-2 with only Schmidt and Dujardin voting to keep it open for the immediate future.
“That kind of knee jerk reaction will make it harder for the regional parties to carry the torch,” commented Mason on Tuesday. “There are lots of other things going on in the region and there are limited resources. If town doesn’t feel it is important, I wonder if the regional stakeholders will consider it to still be a priority. The original idea was to mitigate the current situation and take action to move it. There was an opportunity for collaboration on a regional issue but them closing it down sends a strong message.”
McCombs said his immediate worry is for the nearby backcountry. “Though I can empathize with the residents when I put myself in their shoes, it is unfortunate there was not a way to maintain this critical service as it relates to sustainable recreation management,” he said Tuesday. “Illegal dumping does happen but not so much in locations where waste management services are offered. As I said in the meeting, community-based services like the Town’s RV dump site keep good actors on the righteous path and make it hard for the few impish souls out there to contemplate a wicked alternative. Nevertheless, I look forward to continuing the conversation with the Town, County and STOR on how we might work together to continue this service somewhere more sustainable in the long-run.”