A Public Perception That It’s ‘Too Complicated’
TELLURIDE – A decision by the Telluride Town Council on May 13 not to continue to participate in countywide planning to create a Regional Transportation District has effectively killed the effort, at least for this year.
Prior to Telluride’s decision, the towns of Telluride, Mountain Village, Ophir, Norwood and Sawpit and San Miguel County were engaged in negotiations to craft an Intergovernmental Agreement establishing how a future Regional Transportation Authority would operate, prior to putting questions on the November ballot in each jurisdiction whether to join a Regional Transportation District
“Without Telluride’s participation it’s hopeless,” Commissioner Art Goodtimes said at a public hearing on the subject on Wednesday, May 21.
In fact, following Telluride’s decision, the Ophir Town Meeting and the Norwood Town Council both decided in the last couple of weeks not to move forward.
The major sticking points are the ultimate disposition of the Telluride-Mountain Village gondola, whose existing funding by Mountain Village ends in 2027; the amount of representation each entity would have on the future RTA board; and possibly concerns that election rules in Mountain Village grant a vote to non-resident property owners.
Despite years of discussion, Goodtimes lamented, “the general public hasn’t engaged with this.”
People he has talked to see no urgency with gondola funding secure until 2027, he said.
“I’m feeling pretty depressed.”
Mountain Village Mayor Dan Jansen has argued that from the perspective of financial planning, 2027 is not distant. The gondola transports 2.3 million people a year between Telluride and Mountain Village and costs $3.5 million to operate and about another $1 million in capital maintenance. Replacing that amount of funding when Mountain Village is no longer obligated to provide it can’t be done quickly, Jansen said.
“People have the feeling that it’s too complicated,” said Nina Kothe, a resident of Norwood who is Chief Deputy to the San Miguel County Commissioners and has participated in the negotiations. “There’s a fear factor.”
But the county is not more complicated than the Roaring Fork Valley or Gunnison County, Kothe observed. And both have established regional transportation authorities.
“People also feel there’s a transit system that works, but that’s not true,” Kothe added. The county’s available funding for transit is inadequate, she explained, and there is no possibility of improving service.
The county commissioners, with Jansen in attendance, agreed to continue discussions and to try to rework the draft IGA in ways that might address the concerns of the other jurisdictions.
“But we have run out of time for this year,” County Administrator Lynn Black said, explaining that there is not enough time for the towns that have slammed on the brakes to restart the process and conduct the state mandated two public hearings in time to consider questions for the November ballot.
“We have achieved more public awareness than we have in the past,” Black added. “It may take several years…. We need to continue this conversation.”
“That’s all we can do,” Goodtimes said.
How to Save the Pandora Mill
San Miguel County has been in discussions with the Idarado Mining Co. and J.J. Ossola , chair of the San Miguel County Historic Commission, about how the Pandora Mill might be preserved. While Idarado would support preserving the structure, the cost would likely be substantial, perhaps as much as $4 million.
While the mill is historic and iconic, it is also on a Superfund Site, making it unlikely that ownership would be transferred from Idarado to the public. And while restoration would be costly, the mill would also be costly to demolish. Moreover, there is some urgency behind the question of whether to demolish or preserve the mill because Idarado believes the building is on the verge of failure.
The San Miguel County Commissioners discussed Wednesday whether it would be wise to spend up to $80,000 on a structural assessment, which would be necessary to determine what stabilization would cost.
“The question is whether we spend money on an assessment that could lead to a project that could cost $3 million to $4 million,” Commissioner Art Goodtimes said.
To save the mill, the commissioners agreed, would take community support.
The commissioners directed staff to begin a process of public outreach to try to come to a decision.
“My sense is that there are people in the community who would like to preserve the mill, but at what cost,” Commissioner Joan May said.