Vail Valley Voices: Some ideas take time
February 26, 2012
Many ideas come to the doorstep of county government. Not all of them belong there. Some pass through over and over again until the timing is right.
One such idea that kept coming the past few years, like a quarterly magazine, is very close to becoming a success story because the county resisted earlier, less attractive requests.
No fewer than five individuals had visited me over the past three years wanting the county to invest in some biomass, co-generation or similar project at the landfill. We have the power under state statute to do this and the required transmission lines.
Most of the offers involved the county providing the land and significant financial risk, including an up-front stipend from the county to study the idea. Those previous folks didn’t have power-purchase agreements for selling power or stewardship contracts for a sustainable supply.
My responses to such ideas have been, “Intrigued, but no thanks.”
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So, I am very pleased that the biomass “waste to energy” facility near the Gypsum wallboard plant is coming close to being a reality. This latest group, the Eagle Valley Clean Energy group, got many more ducks in a row before approaching the county.
They have tested technology that would use woody biomass to make power. They walked in the door with a power-purchase agreement with Holy Cross Energy to buy 10 megawatts of power and the contacts to make a stewardship contract with the U.S. Forest Service a real possibility.
Eagle County recently agreed to a long-term supply contract from the landfill to show our support. We are supporting their efforts with the Forest Service.
Still, they have come back requesting that the county participate further by purchasing a portion of their property beside the Gypsum plant from the open space program. They have a mile of riparian corridor that would be fantastic public access.
How much is that, along with bringing 40 new jobs to the valley, worth?
Those discussions are ongoing but tantalizingly close to making this a reality.
We have another idea from the private sector on our desk that is much further out on the horizon. That idea is to study feasibility of using the existing rail corridor for commuter or excursion rail, just two years after the last such request.
Yes, we have 30 years of different studies on our shelf, not to mention all the work at state and regional levels recently studying the feasibility of rail from Denver.
There are significant reasons why this hasn’t happened yet, and I suspect it will not be possible without significant federal funding, state-level leadership and, frankly, a valley population twice what it is now.
It is an idea that we could sink a lot of public dollars into right now that frankly just hasn’t ripened.
The county, after consulting with mayors and town managers, said no thanks to the first group, Greenport, that wanted a lot of up-front money to study feasibility to build very dense transit centers up and down the valley connected by rail.
Is the local taxpayer being a piggy bank on this idea inevitable? No. But if something is ever going to come of the rail corridor, clearly Eagle County must be a strong partner with the right private entity.
This latest group has a track record of similar deals with Union Pacific. Opening the rail line would take a lot of financial and political muscle from such a group, and coordination from Eagle County and the state would be imperative. It’s an intriguing idea.
These ideas require a great deal of judiciousness from local officials to sense when is the right time to jump, consider what kind of costs are worthwhile to study feasibility, to know when to say “not now” and to know when the right time has come.
I’m hoping the right time has come for the Gypsum biomass group. The time has yet to come for regional rail.
Jon Stavney is an Eagle County commissioner.