Mayor candidates disagree on Minturn’s future
Minturn is at a turning point – on that, the town’s two mayoral candidates can agree.
But when you ask these two men what course this old mining town should now take, the answers you will hear completely differ.
In many ways, Gordon “Hawkeye” Flaherty, the challenger and a former mayor, and incumbent Earl Bidez, represent the Minturn of old and new, respectively.
Flaherty, a Minturn native who served two terms and four years as the town’s mayor, lost his re-election bid for mayor in 2002 to Bidez by two votes – one to tie and another to win the office.
While Flaherty was mayor of the town, Minturn built a new town center, reconditioned the town’s water filtration system and merged its volunteer fire department with the more financially sustainable Eagle River Fire Protection District.
“I think people liked what we were doing,” Flaherty said.
He is concerned that the decisions the current council is making will change the character of Minturn forever, he added.
Bidez has lived in Minturn for 23 years but acknowledges he is still considered a newcomer by the town’s longtime residents. After serving on the town’s planning and zoning commission, he decided to run for mayor, he said, because he is concerned about the financial stability of the town.
He has lead an effort by the council to develop a recreational vehicle park on a piece of land on the eastern side of Minturn. Studies show that the RV park would bring customers into town, and in turn, their business would increase the town’s sales tax collections.
While opponents fear an RV park will destroy Minturn’s quaint, small-town charm, Bidez believes some change is necessary to maintain the town’s character and way of life.
“If we can strike a balance between small change and drastic change … we will be in a better position to control the destiny of our town,” he said.
When voters cast a vote for Bidez or Flaherty, they will likely be casting a vote for or against the proposed RV park.
The search for more revenue in Minturn is ongoing. The town has only a $1.2 million budget and so far, has used grants to repair its water system and restore stretches of the Eagle River.
The need for a more permanent revenue source lead to a 1999 “visioning committee” brainstorm to put an RV park on town land previously occupied by a gravel pit and radio tower. A conceptual design was completed in 2000 and in April 2002, the Town Council began accepting business proposals. Earlier this year, one of those proposals was selected.
The council continues to negotiate with the developer, which town officials refuse to name at this time. Bidez said the developer is interested in building a 110-spot RV park. The Town Council wants the developer to also build a community pool and a recreation center.
Feasibility studies have shown that the park will attract 10,000 people annually to the town. And more people means more chances to increase sales tax revenue for Minturn, proponents say.
The council and the developer are scheduled to meet again in the coming weeks. Once an agreement is made, the name of the developer will be made public, Bidez said.
Some residents have attended council meetings and have written letters to newspapers voicing their concerns about building such a park in Minturn.
Flaherty said he wants to maintain Minturn’s small, quiet tradition and fears traffic created by an RV park will change that. He also is concerned about the liability to the town if the project fails, he said.
“I don’t think a town should be running a business,” he said.
He is further frustrated by the council’s reluctance to allow the town’s residents the chance to vote on the issue, he says.
“I don’t think this council, in my view, is listening to the people,” he said. “They haven’t done a very good job.”
Flaherty contradicts claims that Minturn needs another revenue source.
“Financially, I don’t believe we have a problem,” he said. “The budget was good. We don’t have a lot of empty store fronts.”
“I have a lot of concerns about the town,” he said. “We are a very small town and a bedroom community. We need a revenue stream to maintain our infrastructure.”
The town’s water system has failed three times in the last six months, forcing workers to temporarily shut off residential water to fix broken pipes, Bidez said. Soon, that water system will need major, costly repairs that will sink the town into a deficit.
Sooner or later, the town will need to do something, Bidez said. By taking the initiative in bringing a project to town, like the RV park, Minturn will avoid having to take more drastic measures later, he said.
Such drastic measures include letting Vail Resorts to build a lift that would allow skiers to access Vail Mountain from Minturn. Bidez fears it would turn Minturn into a haven for second-home owners. He doesn’t want to see Minturn turn into a resort town, he said.
“We are unique in that we have year-round residency, which is becoming more rare in Eagle County,” he said. “Our children grow up knowing their neighbors.”
Voters will have to decide who Minturn’s mayor will be, as well as vote for three council members, on April 6.
Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com or by calling 949-0555 ext. 607.