Ski company spends $30,000 to both support and oppose reservoir referendum |

Ski company spends $30,000 to both support and oppose reservoir referendum

Cliff Thompson

What’s going on here?

The answer is a study in how money and politics work behind the scenes and how sometimes what seems like a good idea, isn’t. Vail Resorts has significant water rights, used largely for snowmaking and for its various developments, so it takes a pretty active stance on water issues and has multiple representatives on local water boards.

When it first came to prominence, Referendum A – a funding proposal for more and improved reservoirs and water-delivery systems – it seemed like a good idea. Colorado had emerged from the worst drought it has experienced in 300 years with many of the state’s reservoirs depleted and residents worried about how water would be supplied to a growing state population.

Referendum A is seeking voter approval to borrow up to $2 billion in bonding capacity to build, maintain and improve existing reservoirs. The $2 billion could reach $4 billion with interest.

Opponents, largely Western Slopers, decry the proposal’s lack of protection for river basins on the water-rich Western Slope. They fear water will be diverted to the population-heavy and arid Eastern Slope.

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Ultimately, they argue, the proposal, if passed, will deplete Western Slope rivers without requiring any compensation from the Front Range.

So how did Vail Resorts wind up firmly astride this issue?

It started out with a personal touch – Gov. Bill Owens, a major backer of the proposal, contacted Vail Resorts CEO Adam Aron.

“Very early on, before the public debate on Referendum A, Gov. Owens directly approached Adam and asked for our support,” said Vail Resorts spokewoman Kelly Ladyga. “Adam made a commitment of $15,000.”

But then the company began to hear from the opposition, Ladyga said.

“As more information came to light, it became evident to us that Referendum A was much more problematic than we first thought, particularly for our water partners on the Western Slope,” Ladyga said. “We gave $5,000 directly to the campaign opposing it. We also gave another 10,000 to the Eagle Park Reservoir Company.”

The Eagle Park Reservoir Company, on Sept. 22, then contributed $10,000 to opponents of Referendum A. Vail Resorts is one of four shareholders in the reservoir two miles east of Camp Hale .

But Vail Resorts isn’t the only contributor to both proponents and opponents of Referendum A.

Contribution reports from the Colorado Secretary of State indicate proponents of Referendum A are putting some economic muscle behind the ballot issue.They have contributed nearly $700,000 to get it passed.

Opponents, however, have only managed to cobble together $90,000.

The issue has divided Colorado geographically, with support for it largely coming from the Eastern Slope and the opposition flaring from the Western Slope. The measure has split political parties and produced some curious political situations.

Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone is one of the few Western Slope representatives supporting the measure. He, too, was asked by the governor to help promote the issue. Fellow commissioner Arn Menconi, is helping lead Vote No on A, a main opposition group.

If the measure is approved by voters Nov. 4, it requires the governor to approve at least one project for funding by 2005. But opponents have said the main issue stopping reservoirs from being built isn’t the expense, but the amount of regulation each projects faces.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or

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