Green villages step forward cautiously in Vail Valley |

Green villages step forward cautiously in Vail Valley

Special to the Vail DailyAn ambitious "GreenPort" plan for the Vail Valley could tie workforce housing, green living and rail transit into one package.

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Backers of a proposal to create a new rail transit system for Colorado’s Vail Valley, linked by several “workforce villages,” Monday got some qualified encouragement from the Eagle County Commissioners.

Vince Cook, a Beaver Creek resident and former IBM executive, is leading the charge for the proposed “GreenPort” project. If it’s built, the plan will link several developments built to LEED energy efficiency standards with high-speed rail.

The commissioners several months ago asked Cook to find support from other local governments in the valley. He’s still rounding up resolutions of support, but already has those resolutions from the towns of Minturn and Avon, as well as the Eagle-Vail Metropolitan District and the Beaver Creek Resort Company. The town councils in Eagle, Gypsum and Vail are set to debate and vote on similar resolutions in the next couple of weeks.

None of those governments has been asked for money yet, but that’s coming. Cook said the project is going to need a cash infusion by early summer too keep progressing – whether from governments, foundations or the private sector.

But first is the support, which the commissioners appear to be willing to give, with some conditions. Commissioner Peter Runyon asked more than once if Cook and his partners have talked about potentially fatal flaws in the project, adding his belief that access to the rail line through the valley is that flaw.

Local government representatives have for years talked about the difficulty of getting a deal done with the Union Pacific Railroad, and that clearly plays a major role in the commissioners’ reservations about GreenPort.

Cook said he’s been working hard to find and develop contacts with the railroad, and said he’s optimistic about the prospects for a deal.

“You have to understand that when you’re negotiating with a private company, they’re going to want to know what you’re bringing to them,” Cook said.

But, he added, if railroad officials see a package that brings them some benefit – such as lease payments for the line – and meets current federal safety standards, they’ll be more willing to talk. They’ll also be more willing to talk if several governments along a line come to them with a unified plan.

Talking about the prospects of a letter of support, Commissioner Peter Runyon said he’d be more comfortable separating the idea of transit from the idea of development. The county’s support for transit won’t include any promises that the commissioners would subsequently approve new developments, he said.

Commissioner Sara Fisher said she might be more willing to attend a meeting with railroad officials than simply send a “to whom it may concern” letter of support.

Cook said he liked that idea, and also welcomed consultant Joe Kracum’s suggestion that someone from the Colorado Department of Transportation should attend a meeting with railroad officials, too.

“We just want to know you’re with us,” Cook said. “We’re very bullish on going forward with you – but we want to be able to say we’re in unity at this level.”

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