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Dead trees an unwelcoming sight at entrance to Aspen

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Carolyn Sackariason/The Aspen TimesA neglected landscape greets drivers headed into Aspen near the roundabout.
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ASPEN – More than 100 trees have died or are stressed along Highway 82 at the entrance to Aspen.

A change in a multimillion-dollar project involving a water pump at the bottom of a pond at the golf course caused the situation.

As a result, the landscape company that is a subcontractor on the project will have to replace the trees next spring once the irrigation system is set up and can feed water to the vegetation next to the newly built bus lanes coming into town.

What’s at issue is who will pay for the replanting – the city of Aspen, the Colorado Department of Transportation, subcontractor A-1 Lawn and Landscaping of Pueblo, or the general contractor, Castle Rock Construction, located in Centennial.

Dave Munn, project manager at A-1 Lawn and Landscaping, said his company shouldn’t absorb the $30,000 expense because it didn’t have control over the city’s decision to order a different pump midway through the project.

And because a new pump had to be designed and ordered, it prevented A-1 Lawn and Landscaping from having access to water so it could irrigate the newly planted trees when the bus lane project was completed in the fall of 2008. So for the past year, none of the landscaping along the bus lanes of Highway 82 has been watered and likely won’t be until next spring.

“Aspen was pushing to get the project completed,” Munn said, adding he was pressured into planting trees even though everyone involved with the project knew the flora wouldn’t get adequate water. “We had 100 percent of our material there and had no way to water the landscape for 18 months, which is absurd.

“And now here we are going into another winter.”

John Krueger, program manager for the city’s transportation department, said the project is still active and that while the roadway portion is complete, the landscaping and irrigation system are not. The $6.7 million bus lane project is administered and managed by CDOT, with involvement and oversight by the city of Aspen.

Halfway through the project, city officials realized that the pump system designed to fit the existing infrastructure didn’t meet Aspen’s environmental goals. So a change order was made to allow for water to be recycled, which required an entirely different pump design that delayed completion of the irrigation system.

“Yes, we tried to incorporate that, and yes, it did get a little complex,” Krueger said. “We tried to do the right thing … everyone thought it was a better solution and more environmentally friendly.

“Things don’t always go as smoothly as we hope.”

More technical complexities surfaced this summer when project managers couldn’t locate the existing 8-inch water line on the bottom of the pond; the line requires a screen to be placed on it before the pump will be commissioned by the company that designed it.

Earlier this month, local diver Tom Bennett was hired to find the water line. He recently dove in the pond near the roundabout but couldn’t locate it. Another attempt is planned.

“We thought rather than drain the pond, we’d try to find it that way,” Krueger said.

Josh Cullen, project manager for CDOT, said about 25 percent of the estimated 600 to 700 existing trees will need to be replaced next spring. Species include ponderosa pines, blue spruces, aspen and hackberry trees.

He said he’s hopeful that the irrigation system will be functional by next spring, which would allow A-1 Lawn and Landscaping to finish the job.

“It’s unfortunate that it happened this way,” Cullen said. “Obviously with the changes made, things didn’t get done.”

He added that once the contract is closed out, there will be a one-year “establishment period” in which CDOT will examine the quality of landscaping. Whatever doesn’t measure up is the responsibility of A-1 Lawn and Landscaping, Cullen said.

Munn said he’ll be taking up the issue of who is financially responsible for the tree planting next spring. He argues that because city and CDOT officials didn’t properly spec out the pump system during the design/build bidding process, his company shouldn’t be left holding the bag.

“Where that disconnect happened I have no idea,” he said.

Munn said his company replaced between 50 and 60 trees this past spring and attempted to water the area with a truck, but it proved to be too costly and difficult because they couldn’t get approval to close the road or use city trails.

“It’s been a real mess,” he said. “Anything and everything has gone wrong with it.”

Munn said if a compromise isn’t reached, there will be a lawsuit.

“We don’t feel it’s been our issue,” he said.

Krueger said A-1 Lawn and Landscaping has been great to work with thus far, and has been patient through all of the delays and problems.

“The end product will be a good product,” he said. “We want to have a successful landscape at the entrance, and it’s going to look a lot better than it used to.”

Greg Mejezchleb, project manager for Castle Rock Construction, said his company is still owed $100,000 in retainage because the project hasn’t been closed out.

“It’s been a nightmare,” he said of the ongoing issues and delays.

Wes Fleming, who lives at the Pomegranate condos near the area, said he and his neighbors are sick and tired of looking at dead trees and a barren landscape.

“It’s pathetic it was done that way,” he said. “Why is someone not responsible that it was done that way?

“It seems like no one had any authority or oversight,” Fleming continued. “It’s a huge government debacle.”

csack@aspentimes.com


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