Building on the banks
AVON – Bill Perry knows what it means to see mayflies come back to the Eagle River behind his shop, Flyfishing Outfitters in Avon: The river and its ecosystem are in better health.The wastewater treatment plant and an increasing awareness of river quality have helped the river recover from the poor management practices of mines built in the late 1800s. These days, developers working in Avon’s developers are requiered to take moore precautions during construction to protect the river.But when construction sites abut the river, like Westin Riverfront resort, the balance between development and environment is even more delicate. Although he would rather not see the river’s banks get developed, Perry, a 25-year local, said he knows it’s inevitable.The Westin is on a piece of land the town sees as a place to move from the bustle of the town to the scenery of the river, said Tambi Katieb in an interview this summer when he was Avon’s community development director.”The Confluence is the transition between the lively, vibrant core of Avon and the natural environment of Eagle River,” Katieb said. “This project is meant to enhance the quality of the river, not overwhelm it.”The 18.9-acre Riverfront Village will include a hotel, time shares, condominiums and townhomes. A gondola will transport skiers and snowboarders from the village to the Beaver Creek Mountain Express chairlift at the base of Bachelor Gulch. The infrastructure for the $500-million project is already taking shape, but later phases of construction may not be completed until 2012, said Andy Gunion, project manager for developer East West Partners. The gondola is slated to run in time for the 2008-09 season, at the latest.
Most riverside buildings in Avon have to be at least 30 feet from the water. For the Confluence project, the developer volunteered to build 75 feet away, said Chuck Madison, East West Partners spokesman. “When the project began, we knew we wanted to keep the river corridor open and keep resort property away,” Katieb said. “From a design perspective, this project doesn’t turn its back on the river but creates an active environment.”Compare it to projects you would see in Vail with setbacks of 20 feet,” he said. “All the lodging there makes a canyon of Gore Creek. Each community will make its own decisions.”Riverfront guests will be able to enjoy the sounds of the river from their rooms, a luxury not available from most Avon hotels, Katieb said.Bill Andree of the Colorado Division of Wildlife said the site – formerly used for the Beaver Creek Rodeo – was already damaged before Confluence planning began. Most of the vegetation was destroyed for the lot meaning the Riverfront Village can’t be any worse for the land than its former use, he said. Perry said the development may actually be good for the river and its ecosystem.”They’re going to have to landscape the area and the (native plants) will come back a little bit because of the trees that they put in and the grasses that they’ll have to have,” Perry said. “I think they’ll do a good job.”
Regulations for construction sites like the Confluence are set at federal, state and local levels to ensure they have the smallest possible effect on the river. For any site larger than 1 acre, the developer must submit a stormwater management plan to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. The plan must identify any sources of pollution, like sediment, and describe how the developer will prevent it from reaching bodies of water, said Kathy Dolan, with the department’s Water Quality Control Division.”They’re supposed to determine that on their own, because they know their site,” Dolan said. “We don’t.” Although the state cannot visit most sites, Dolan said her division responds to complaints – mostly from citizens who live near the construction.At the Confluence site, straw bales rolled in burlap and temporary holding ponds, called catch basins, control sediment. About 880 feet of black silt fences – mesh barriers about three feet high that allow water to seep through but keep sediment out – are set up along the river to prevent debris from washing into the water, said East West Partners construction manager Ron Kowalski. These stormwater runoff controls must be in place before work begins and maintained until the site has been permanently stabilized, which means all disturbed land has been paved, built on or revegetated, Dolan said. Runoff controls are inspected by the project engineer and a town inspector at least every two weeks and after heavy rain. If a problem is found, it must be fixed in two days, Avon Town Engineer Norm Wood said. Ignoring these regulations would be hard because of the bike path that runs between the river and the site, Kowalski said”This trail is traveled by . . . a lot of people knowledgeable about environmental issues,” he said. Even with all these precautions, Andree said there’s still a chance that sediment fences could fall down or debris could slip past them. He said he urges developers to go beyond requirements and set up extra traps, but regulation is out of his jurisdiction.
The improvement on the riverbanks will be visible for pedestrians, Wood said. The current bike path between Beaver Creek Boulevard and Avon Road will be widened by two feet and the area around it landscaped, he said. But the biggest change will be how people get to the river.”This tract along the river will be transferred to the town after construction, so it will permanently be public property,” Wood said. “It was formerly private, and people were wandering around and putting (boats) in wherever they wanted. Now more people will access the river, but it will be controlled.”Defined paths will redirect people to two access points along the river to kayak and flyfish, Madison said. This will discourage them from trampling plants on the riverbank. Spruce, alder, cottonwood, dogwood, and other native vegetation will be planted in areas that have been worn down, Katieb said. Andree said controlled access points sound like a good idea, but he doesn’t think they’ll will keep people off the banks.”It won’t work because of human nature,” he said. “People want to get away. If that area gets too concentrated, they’ll just go elsewhere.”
Negotiating the balance can be a constant tug-of-war between environmentalists and developers. More places for people to fish, shop and stay mean less places for hawks to hunt, owls to perch and beavers to dam. And what’s a wise decision for the town of Avon now may not be in five years, Andree said. Private developers and public planners have a common goal to leave as small a footprint as possible on the environment, Katieb said. In the future, the environmental effect will increasingly be a key consideration for redevelopment, he said. “The Eagle River, for many years, was just there. It was not realized as an asset,” Katieb said. “The Watershed Council is educating people about its value. There’s a new awareness now of the river, but like anything, we could always do better.”Vail, Colorado