Of course thoughts of islands come into play now that the ski season is over… but the Crested Butte town council’s decision on Monday to not open the only RV dump facility in the north valley seemed made on its own private island and that is not a great choice when any island depends on partners for a lot of other things. Some on the town council seem to forget that what happens outside of its one square mile boundary impacts the town and vice versa. Despite the pooh-poohing of warnings that closing the RV dump might result in some literal backcountry poo-poo issues, their decision will impact the local public lands we all use.
Now of course, no one wants to live near a place where tourists are lining up to dump their crap after a stay in the nearby campground. I understand the angst of the people living in the neighborhood by the sewer plant and would make their same arguments if I lived there. But that neighborhood is not an island within the town and the town is not really an island within the north valley. The CB council gladly accepts the gains of tourism but this decision ignores the negative impacts of the industry.
The fact is, right now, there is one place that can accommodate RVers responsibly getting rid of their waste in the north valley and that is at the Crested Butte wastewater treatment plant. There seemed to be solid consensus among the regional partners that given the proximity to a growing neighborhood, all felt it was a priority to move it someplace more isolated and ultimately appropriate. The feeling I got was that it would take a summer or two to find and develop that ideal location. In the meantime, the regional partners hoped the impacts to the neighborhood could be mitigated while the service to tourists we invite here was continued and a new site developed.
Five of seven CB council members felt otherwise. And that’s too bad. As I listened to the discussion Monday I was struck by the overall reasonableness of the neighbors that spoke. Nearby residents spoke their truth and made it clear they preferred to not have a dump station that attracted recreational vehicles near their homes… but then most spoke of their preferred compromise that would mitigate the impacts for a year or two while a new location was developed. They were wiling to seek middle ground under the circumstances. That deserves kudos.
I was then struck by the next discussion item by the council that included a lengthy debate on traffic calming measures near Elk Avenue… measures that could have easily been used to address the strongest concerns being spoken of by the neighbors near the RV dump. But no council members seemed to consider similar traffic calming for that side of town. Instead the cost of $45,000 to at least temporarily mitigate the dump issue was described by one as “insane” during the RV discussion but a few minutes later the same councilperson appeared casually fine with the town spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on patios. Baffling.
Look, mayor Jim Schmidt was right when he said the hardest part of being a tourist town is dealing with the impacts of being a tourist town. But that’s the choice we’ve made and it comes with stuff like traffic, not enough affordable housing and crap from campers. Councilman Will Dujardin was right when he described the dump station as critical infrastructure in the upper valley. The Town of Crested Butte sees as much or more benefit from tourism as any other entity in the valley. The town has literally millions of dollars in its reserve accounts thanks to sales taxes that come from visitors. To wall off the island and refuse to find good compromise with some of the literal crap that comes with being a tourist town is disappointing and frankly, selfish.
While ideally the closure decision could light a fire to find an alternative RV dump site sooner rather than later, county commissioner Roland Mason made it clear that the regional partners will hear the island message loud and clear. He said he’s not sure anyone will still consider it a priority given the limited resources and number of other issues to tackle. If not having a dump site up here is not a problem for the town, why would it be for Gunnison? Whether that council decision bleeds over to things like housing or transit remains to be seen… but island decisions rarely stay on the island.
Gunnison Forest district ranger Matt McCombs said the reality is that most campers are good people that respect the environment but there are always bad actors. And having a community-based service like an RV dump keeps the good actors on the “righteous path and makes it hard for the few impish souls out there to contemplate a wicked alternative.” The council’s Monday island decision allows a few impish souls to think the wicked thoughts as they prepare to leave the Slate River or Brush Creek or wherever.
Tourism numbers were huge last summer. They are expected to be bigger this summer. Denying the uncomfortable stuff that comes with those growing numbers is a bad move in both the short-term and down the road for a council that claims it supports “sustainable” tourism.