Something stinks about the old dump

Time out.
We have a situation… again.
In fact, it is a bit of a mess.
The “situation” is the old town dump.
What is the real situation with the ten-acre dump? What’s there that’s dangerous besides lead? Who owned it 50 years ago? Who ran it? Who should pay to clean it up? Why was Poverty Gulch built next to it or even on it? Are there really ticking time bombs of 50-gallon oil drums deteriorating beneath the grass? Is there really an old county loader buried there? Are the Foothills developers really building up a foundation to sue the town to pay for clean-up if the annexation isn’t approved? What is the honest reality? Why didn’t the developers follow the simple equations supplied by the town in its Area Plan? Can there be a happy ending?

Wait…we have a change order—again. So it comes to light this week that the Foothills developers sent a letter to the town documenting their belief that Crested Butte is ultimately legally liable for the old dump. Based on their research, Foothills contends that the town is responsible for cleaning it up so developers can do what they do and develop the property. The lawyers for the Foothills swear they want to find a way to work in conjunction with the town. The ballpark estimate being used as a cost for clean-up: a mere $2 million… and there’s a real chance that’s a lowball figure.

A public hearing will be reopened this coming Tuesday with the chance of the Town Planning Commission voting on whether or not to approve its sketch plan phase. Seriously? With the latest information from the state about the need to test the site and determine a course of action, and this letter from the developers getting all legal on the town… we might need a small time-out. Maybe it’s a week, maybe it’s longer. Add in the developers’ request for the town to throw in a million bucks to help pay for a convoluted Kochevar’s open space deal and I just keep scratching my head.
The Foothills development team seems to keep bumbling and stumbling toward the end zone. Examples—Let’s start with the fact they bought a dump surrounded by wetlands and a cemetery for $15 million. They pulled the developer ploy of starting with 380 houses and after getting their arm twisted, came down to 158. Out of nowhere, they offered to sell the town half the property. At one point they planned to build the affordable housing. Now they send a letter pointing blame and total responsibility at the town—a letter that might tweak the people who ultimately vote on the annexation. But the fact is they are still headed to the end zone.
I get the feeling sometimes that the developers not only don’t want this Planning Commission voting on the sketch plan or even the one that will be seated in a month, but rather the council that will be elected in 2011.

In the latest change of plans, the developers are now proposing that they will front the potential $2,000,000 clean-up costs. Remember that 1 percent real estate transfer fee the developers promised to impose and give to the town for “sustainability?” Say goodbye. They suggest it now be used to pay back the upfront costs to them over several years with interest.

It is understandable if the first reaction to all of this is anger. It has the scent of “Give us our annexation and we’ll make it so you don’t have to come up with the clean-up money. Don’t give us the annexation and we’ll sue your ass. And if you lose, you get to clean it up and figure out a way to pay for it, while we sell lots.”
The fact is, nobody really knows yet who is “liable” and who will clean up the dump. The dump genie is out of the bottle and I don’t think it’s going back in. As the state’s Mark Rudolph suggested, the next serious step is a $40,000 “site characterization study” to really determine what is there. Would somebody make that move, please? Isn’t it time to prioritize?
That dump will likely have to be cleaned up by someone, somehow. Nobody wants those 50-gallon barrels of oil leaking into the water table and polluting the Slate River. That reality now has to be part of any equation.

Don’t even get started on the cojones it took to ask the town to spend its $1.2 million in open space funds to help pay for the proposed Kochevar open space package. But that’s another topic not fully detailed.

Why the Planning Commission hasn’t plainly discussed this stuff in public is a mystery. Why the planning commissioners’ heads haven’t exploded when confronted with some of this stuff is a bigger mystery.

Unfortunate bottom line: The dump situation isn’t going away. And the ultimate result is that the town might just feel pushed into the corner far enough to move ahead with annexation. Maybe the commissioners should send Foothills lead attorney Jim Starr a letter saying the developers have liability and responsibility. They bought the thing.
The town must ultimately decide if getting the benefits on the table—and perhaps turning the tables and forcing the proponents to agree to pay for the lion’s share of the clean-up—is worth some sort of development.
I’ve said there have been some interesting items that emerged as a result of this painful 15-month process. I’m not sure the Planning Commission feels it is there yet one way or the other… but doing it this way? It stinks. What should have been an arithmetic equation has unfortunately moved to algebra.
A short time-out might be in order to evaluate the true reality of the dump before it goes from algebra to calculus.

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