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An expansive expansion

Tom Boyd

Gordon “Hawkeye” Flaherty has been a Minturn man all his life; a local’s local, a lifer through and through. He still lives in one half of the home where he was raised, on 160 Main St., only blocks away from Town Hall, where he serves as mayor.”I rent the part (of the house) I grew up in that’s next door,” he says. “I haven’t gone far.”Flaherty has remained stationary and unmoving in Minturn, but the town itself has changed around him realigning its identity from one decade to the next. Minturn’s main street, for example, was once the main thoroughfare of the upper valley a relatively big street in a sparsely populated West. Back then, I-70 was a far-distant reality railroad ruled the day. The railroad was the main piston in Minturn’s economic engine, while mining in Gilman, Red Cliff, and the surrounding hills infused local culture with classic Western ruggedness.And the Gore Valley, now Vail, was just a quiet side valley, cradle to several sleepy ranches (for more on Minturn, see “Railroads, mines, turntables and time,” Parts I and II at vailtrail.com, July 1 and Nov. 11 editions).With all that has come and gone, it’s no surprise that Hawkeye has become accustomed to change. Now, as mayor, he is the elected steward of a town that may be about to undergo its biggest change yet.A 5,300-acre collection of private land holdings, located between Minturn and Red Cliff, has been bought by developer Bobby Ginn (the “G” is pronounced like “get,” not “gin”). It is the largest chunk of private land in eastern Eagle County, and Minturn will be deeply affected by any development in the area but Hawkeye is keeping it all in perspective.”Well, it’s definitely going to have an impact,” he says. “But everything has left its mark: Camp Hale closing down, the mine closing down left a mark, the railroad going away left a mark, the foundation of Vail and the Town of Vail has had an impact. This is just one more thing and time will tell how big of an impact it will have on us.”One change is coming already: the arrival of Bill Weber, Ginn Development’s leading agent in the “Gilman” project. Hawkeye, it seems, will have a new neighbor in Mr. Weber, who is buying a house in Minturn this week to be close to the site during the negotiation and planning stages of the project.Ginn Development is proposing to build as many as 850 dwelling units, a reservior, a golf course, and a private ski resort on the property. So far the deal is in its infancy and may never materialize. With only one public meeting held so far, most of the facts and figures of this development have yet to be decided or revealed.But it’s clear Ginn would like to have Minturn annex the property.”Minturn will have the most effect on us and we’ll have the most effect on them, and that sort of broad-brushes the issue,” Ginn said.Eagle County locals suspect that Ginn needs Minturn for its water. As of now, Ginn said, he has some water rights (which came with the purchase of the land), but would like to augment the size of Bolt’s lake to make the development happen.”Water’s a big issue,” Ginn said. “It is going to be a joint effort – they need water and water storage and we’ve got the capacity to do that.”With Weber nearby, Hawkeye and the rest of the Minturn Town Council will be deciding whether or not to annex Ginn’s land, double the town’s limits, and partner up for this massive project.Annexation could bring the town more money and possible improvements, but it also comes with more burdens and more responsibility. It could bring renewed life to the business district, but it will also bring more traffic and more maintenance headaches. It could bring more recreation opportunities, but it may disrupt a large stretch of what is now open wilderness. It may help clean up remaining mine tailings in an environmental disaster area, and it could become an environmental disaster all its own.At this point, no one is certain. No one knows what this development will bring, or if it will happen at all. This is because Ginn’s plans aren’t fully clear, and neither are Minturn’s.But big players from around the county are beginning to step in and exert their weight, and only one thing is for certain: if it does happen, it will significantly change Eagle County.Wilderness or wasteland?Hopes for a conservation easement on the parcel took a major blow with a 2003 court ruling (see sidebar, opposite page). Vail Resorts bowed out of the dealings, and, at this point, is standing idly by.”We have not seen any specific plans as of yet and therefore don’t have an opinion (on the development) at this time,” says Vail Resorts spokesperson Kelly Ladyga.The wilderness quality of the land has been questioned by some and championed by others. Portions of the land are the sight of an EPA Superfund cleanup, a result of decades’ worth of mining pollution. Superfund Project Manager Hermando Saenz told the Vail Daily, in a story published Feb. 17, that about 300 acres, plus a strip 50 meters wide on either side of the Eagle River about 10 miles long, would need to be cleaned up in order to be developed.Much of the area, however, is either previously untouched by the mining industry or well cleaned by the Superfund project. Forest Service officials told The Vail Trail, in a September, 2003 article, that the land was valuable as wildlife habitat.In the same article, Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Cindy Cohagen told The Vail Trail that, “Because it is such a pristine and significant parcel of land, we would hope that at some point we would have the opportunity to at least present conservation options to Turkey Creek and work with them in partnership to protect as much of that parcel as open space as possible.”Turkey Creek has sold the parcel, and Cohagen could not be reached by The Vail Trail’s press time to verify that the same stance applies to the current owner.Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi says any plans for development have to be seriously considered in light of the area’s environmental value.”There’s miles to go before anyone sleeps on this issue, but I’m taking the stand that the people in Eagle County care dearly about their environment and at this stage I want to make sure I have a seat at the table fighting for the environment,” he said. “A golf course with a guarded, gated community, and a ski area with a guarded, gated community. Wake up! What does that say?”Poised outside his coffeehouse on Main Street, however, business owner Harry Gray thinks Menconi is over-reacting.”How can something be an EPA Superfund cleanup site and a pristine wilderness at the same time?” he asks.Gray says the development has, “the potential to be good, and the potential to be bad.” But as far as the environment goes, Gray points out that Ginn has indicated that he’s willing to help clean up or, at least, cover up some of the mine tailings in the area as part of the development project.International corporate giant Viacomm, together with the EPA, have been working on the massive cleanup since the early 1980s but there is still quite a ways to go. If Viacomm and the EPA can’t finish the job, Menconi is skeptical that a single development company can do it.”Harry Gray is one of the more colorful, cynical people I know,” Menconi says. “But for him to make a statement that a developer is going to make it all better raises my level of cynicism. For a developer to say, ‘Yes, I’m going to clean up this Superfund site,’ Viacomm couldn’t even complete that.”Rubes and real peopleGray added his spirited quotes to a chorus of groans and catcalls coming from Minturn’s Main Street Feb. 23. Vail Daily Editor Don Rogers was the target of several unprintable observations after he printed a “Quick Takes” column which stated that Minturn, “Looks more like a community of rubes than that last bastion of self-styled ‘real’ people.”Despite his distaste for Rogers’ choice of words, Gray agrees that Minturn has showed a surprising lack of resistance to the project.”Logically you’d think there’d be people up in arms about this, but you’re not seeing that,” he said.Gray says the silence has more to do with a “wait-and-see” attitude than greed.But there’s something to be said for the strange quiet in Minturn right now. After all, this is the same town that has produced the Minturn Militia, a loose-knit group of iconoclasts who vehemently opposed the RV park and the commercialization of the Meadow Mountain snow hill, but who have yet to come out for or against the Gilman development.Members of the militia, who prefer to remain anonymous, have indicated that the development may not be all-bad but they, like most of the town’s populace, seem to be waiting to see just what lies ahead. With incorporation, they hope, they might have more control over the development than if they leave it unincorporated and under the control of the county. A Militia spokesperson also said the group still holds out hope that Ginn can do more to help cleanup the area’s mine tailings.Minturn stands to benefit monetarily, as well. Early figures provided by the Town of Minturn indicate that the town’s $1 million annual budget would quadruple – at least – if the land were incorporated.”What do they need the money for,” Menconi asks. “Do they need more police? Do they need more street sweepers? What is Minturn lacking in town benefits that they so desperately need from this size of development?”By way of entering into negotiations, Menconi and fellow Commissioners Tom Stone and Peter Runyon met with the Town of Minturn Wednesday night, March 2, after The Vail Trail went to press. Menconi plans to tell the Town of Minturn that the county would make it a top priority to aid in the evaluation of the Gilman project. This includes, Menconi says, manpower from county staff.Town Manager Ann K. Capela said the Town of Minturn is well-prepared to annex if that’s what they chose to do, and that they would probably look to independent contractors, not the county, for help with the process.Times are changingIn The Vail Trail’s most recent article on Minturn (see “Railroads, mines, turntables and time,” at vailtrail.com, Nov. 11 edition), Minturn was in the midst of celebrating its centennial. A century after its inception, the town was looking for a way to sustain its small-town, historical feel particularly its tight-knit community.But town leaders were also looking for ways to grow the economy. A proposal for an RV park had been defeated in a vote because it didn’t fit the feel of Minturn, it didn’t seem, “right,” in the estimation of one of Minturn’s originals, Darla Goodell.From one perspective, Bobby Ginn’s arrival couldn’t have been better timed. His proposal to build a high-end community above Minturn, out-of-sight, seems to appeal to those who are looking for a new way to re-invigorate the economy without changing the main core of the town.But others are wary of Ginn Development Company’s intentions. There is a whispered fear in Minturn’s gathering places in the saloons and steakhouses that line its main street, and in the century-old homes where lifelong locals gather. The fear is that Minturn will be duped by a developer, and have very little say over what happens when new buildings begin to go up. VTTom Boyd can be reached for comment at tboyd@vailtrail.com.


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