The Ice Dam Breaks | Local Perspective
by Seth Cagin
May 17, 2007 | 421 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Those of us who favored the 91 percent compromise solution for preserving the bulk of the Valley Floor as preferable to proceeding with what we saw as a risky path of condemnation were absolutely wrong about one thing.  And it’s not a small thing. Even after the worst possible verdict in the valuation trial, which set the price for the land at the top of the range of possibilities, it has proven possible to raise the necessary private money to match what the town could afford to spend.

We now know the answer to the often-asked question: “Can the town afford it?”

The answer: “Yes, we can,” although admittedly not without paying some real opportunity costs.

Those who led us all to go for broke deserve hearty congratulations.  They pursued a dream and have come tantalizingly close to realizing it. 

They are not yet home free because there are still some possible legal hurdles. We can’t know if Valley Floor owner Neal Blue will continue to fight the condemnation or if he has a reasonable shot at success if he does. But barring a legal setback that could rob them of it, those who favored condemnation have won a great victory, and all of us will benefit from it.

It is important to note that the lion’s share of the private money that was donated for the acquisition came not from full-time or longtime locals, but rather from second homeowners, many of whom own property outside the town limits, at Aldasoro, in Mountain Village, or beyond. By the estimate of one person close to the fundraising effort, as much as 90 percent of the private money came not from the wishing well or other local fundraisers, but in large chunks from second homeowners. This represents a shift in our understanding of ourselves as a community. For the first time in Telluride history, community consists truly of both full-time residents and second homeowners. What the second homeowners who have made the condemnation possible and the locals who spearheaded it but simply did not have as much to give have in common is a passion for this place and its stunning beauty, and an understanding that the openness of the Valley Floor is integral to it all.

Beyond that, I’m sure that a large majority of us can agree that regardless of where we’ve stood in the decade-long War of the Floor, and regardless of the tactics we’ve advocated – condemnation or compromise – the preservation of open space south of the Hwy. 145 Spur and public access to that land represent a far, far better outcome than development and no trespassing signs.

There is another clear and immediate benefit of an end to the political struggle that has consumed this community for so many years. The prolonged uncertainty over the future of the Valley Floor has been like an ice damn in a river. Now that the dam has melted, perhaps the water can start to flow.

We can begin, for example, to imagine (and work for) the environmental restoration of the hardly pristine, not even close to wild Valley Floor. It will be an inarguable good for the San Miguel River to be liberated from the artificial channel to which it has been confined so it can begin acting as a high alpine river should, creating wetlands and riparian habitat.

With the vast bulk of the Valley Floor protected in perpetuity, perhaps we can imagine using the uplands on the Pearl Property, immediately adjacent to existing development, for some community uses for which we now have too little land: employee housing and playing fields, or perhaps even a new medical center. Maybe now we can begin to figure out what might occur on the Valley Floor north of the highway, and on land owned by the San Miguel Valley Corp. at Society Turn and near the airport. Some of that land, in an ideal world, has environmental value and should be protected from development; other portions are suitable for community uses or free-market development.

With what we have long defined as our primary environmental issue finally put to rest, could another, even more fundamental environmental issue rise to the top of our agenda?  Might Telluride follow other enlightened communities that have devoted significant resources to the idea of reducing or even eliminating their carbon footprint? Could we put solar panels on all of our rooftops? Could we get off the coal-fired grid? Wouldn’t that be a worthy objective for a community that defied all the odds and managed to save its precious Valley Floor!

Now, perhaps, as a community we can finally attend to the economic anemia of main street, to the importance of revitalizing the Coonskin base, to the necessity of housing local employees locally, and to the reality that we must create a viable transportation system for those we can’t house locally.

My recitation of this list of challenges is not to diminish the achievement of saving the Valley Floor. Indeed, in some form, however it happened, protecting our incomparable setting was a necessary prerequisite for Telluride to begin to move into its future. 

Let us hope that this incredibly idealistic accomplishment, powerful proof of what a community of individuals who share a passion for a place can do, marks not just the end of a “war,” but an outbreak of peace and the start of a new era of progress.

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