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Minturn hungry for private resort info

Steve Lynn
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyFloyd Duran removes snow Wednesday in Minturn. The former Minturn town councilman said he's OK with current council members' silence on a proposed private ski resort. Other residents want to know councilors' opinions.
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MINTURN ” A Minturn town councilor once threatened to leave a party when people started talking about a proposed private ski resort, Linda Osterberg said.

Osterberg, a Minturn resident for 28 years, wonders why people she elected to represent her cannot talk to her about an issue that could change her life.

“I’m hoping there’s a good reason that they’re not talking to us, but I don’t really understand it,” said Osterberg, who declined to name the councilor at the party.

If councilors talk about the Ginn Development Co.’s proposed private ski resort outside Minturn Town Council meetings they must repeat at a council meeting what they said to a resident or what a resident told them, or both, according to Minturn Municipal Code. Such discussions outside council meetings are called “ex parte communications.”

“I can talk about the process, I just can’t talk about the specifics,” said Mayor Gordon “Hawkeye” Flaherty.

Ginn wants to build 1,700 homes and condominiums and private ski resort and golf course on and around Battle Mountain, south of Minturn. Councilors are expected to vote on whether to annex Ginn’s property into the town before the Town Council election in April.

Flaherty said he has not made a decision about whether to annex Ginn’s property into Minturn. His role is like that of a judge waiting to the hear the facts from all sides, and by law, that has to be done in public, he said.

“In order to be fair and impartial to both parties, you have to hear what’s presented in an open forum,” he said. “A judge couldn’t go and talk to a witness behind closed doors.”

Rob Davis has approached council members, whom he declined to name, a couple times with questions about Ginn’s proposal, he said.

“All we hear is ‘Well, we can’t really talk about that right now,'” said Davis, who has lived in Minturn for 34 years. “That’s kind of the answer I’ve gotten.”

So Davis has a lot of unanswered questions.

What will the ski resort’s gondola look like? Will sidewalks be built along Highway 24 in Minturn before Ginn’s homes and condominiums are built? Will a paved bike path be built from Dowd Junction to Red Cliff instead of from Minturn to Red Cliff? Davis asked.

“When are we going to know anything?” Davis asked.

If people have questions, they may ask Ginn employee or town staffers and go to meetings or watch them on Channel 5, some residents said.

“Any citizen that wants to be aware of what’s going on has ample opportunity,” said Michael Gallagher, a former mayor and town councilor who regularly attends meetings.

Diana Scherr and her husband, Matt, take turns going to the meetings while one stays home in Minturn to take care of their children. They have hired baby-sitters so they can attend meetings together, she said.

Still, Scherr said she wishes she could talk with a councilor whose values she shares and whose opinions she trusts.

Councilors know the most about the project, she said. They have sat through meetings listening to presentations about Ginn’s proposal for two years, she said.

But the ex parte law actually enhances communication, Gallagher said.

“I only have to walk across the street to talk to (Town Councilwoman Shelley Bellm) and I know it’s going to get to the council,” Gallagher said.

Public comment periods at Town Council meetings have been mostly one-sided, with people giving their opinions and councilors saying nothing, Osterberg said.

“We have no idea if we’re really being heard,” she said.

Flaherty said council members have heard the pros and cons from the public. The last meeting for public comment was Dec. 19, but people can still mail or drop off written comments to Minturn Town Center.

Facts about the project could turn into misinformation if councilors communicated with residents, said Floyd Duran, a former town council member.

“You know how hearsay goes,” Duran said.

The semimonthly council meetings take too much time for Duran, who works hard removing snow around the town, he said.

“You don’t want to sit at a council meeting for four hours just to hear something you didn’t want to hear,” he said.

Ginn should go door-to-door to spread information about its project, he said.

Ginn’s application is available through the town, but it’s too long and lacks simple language that everyone can understand, Scherr said.

“That’s completely overwhelming,” she said. “The average citizen looks at that and says, ‘Whoa.'”

Scherr thinks a synopsis of the project should be posted online.

Residents need more information because Minturnites may vote on the project in a referendum, Davis said.

“The information that they have is important for us to make a decision on whether we would like to have the project,” he said.

The lack of information on the project creates a fear of it, Scherr said.

“If we’re going to put it to a vote, we need to understand the project, not just go with our guts,” she said.

Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 748-2931 or slynn@vaildaily.com.


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