Blanning forced previous evacuation in downtown Aspen |

Blanning forced previous evacuation in downtown Aspen

ASPEN, Colorado ” New Year’s Eve wasn’t the first time downtown Aspen was evacuated because of Jim Blanning.

Blanning’s input helped convince city government officials to evacuate a large swath of downtown for one day in June 1983, former Mayor Bill Stirling recalled Thursday. Officials were concerned that snow melting off Aspen Mountain after a wet winter would trigger mudslides. Blanning, a student of Aspen Mountain’s mining history, was a consultant for the town because of his vast knowledge of the mountain’s geology.

“Jim has always been an eccentric fellow, but he wasn’t mad in those days,” Stirling said.

Blanning would bring binoculars to City Hall so he could point out potential problem areas on Aspen Mountain to Stirling, the city engineer and other officials, Stirling said. Blanning urged a cautious approach, and city officials were inclined to listen because mudslides had come off Aspen Mountain onto Aspen Street during runoff after prior winters.

Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis said Blanning regularly took a “Chicken Little approach” about Aspen Mountain sliding. Braudis, who considered Blanning a friend, said Blanning tended to overreact in many situations.

Stirling said he ultimately made the call as mayor in 1983 to evacuate businesses and residences in a large part of the core for a day. He was criticized for the decision, but it spurred the city and Aspen Skiing Co. to take steps to change drainage patterns on the lower slopes.

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