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Creek still struggling with sand

Nic Corbett
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyAndrea Holland-Sears of the Forest Service takes a photo wile standing in a ditch created by sand pushed off I-70.
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VAIL Caroline Bradford said she sees a collision of interests.The Eagle River Watershed Councils mission is to protect the river and its tributaries, while the Colorado Department of Transportations mission is to keep Interstate 70 open during snowstorms.But the traction sand meant to keep the highway safe for drivers is polluting nearby streams, particularly Black Gore Creek which flows down Vail Pass, Bradford says. We both want them to keep the interstate open, said Bradford, director of the watershed council. On the other hand, we dont want the pollution that is a byproduct of that.The two organizations are working with other agencies on the Black Gore Creek Steering Committee, whose goal is to control the traction sand used to clear the road. More than 60 local, county and state officials attended the Black Gore Creek Tour Friday morning, which was put on by the council to show the officials what the steering committee has done and what has yet to be done. The group was shuttled in six vans down I-70 and a bike path that runs along Black Gore Creek. Along the way, the officials were able to see sediment piled up along the highway and the stream. The sediment comes primarily from the thousands of tons of traction sand the Colorado Department of Transportation places on the highway to clear it, Bradford said. To get ready for the next snowstorm, they plow it off the side, and it basically goes off the hill and into the stream, Bradford said. The excessive sand causes damage to Black Gore Creeks ecosystem, Bradford said.It covers it all in basically muck sand, and it smothers the bugs, and then the fish dont have any food, she said. And then theres no fish and its a polluted stream.The stream can handle normal amounts of sand which would naturally erode, she said.But if you pour that much of it, its like pouring a beach into the stream, she said.

At one of the pit stops the vans made along the highway, the amount of sand that accumulated into the lower end of the creek after being drained from a culvert was so deep, the organizers of the tour put out three lawn chairs and a pail to simulate a beach.

Cal Wettstein, the countys chief forest ranger, pointed out the dead trees along the highway and said they were killed not by the bark beetle but by the piles of sand pressing on its root system. The first stop revealed the amount of sand that had fallen into Black Lake no. 1, which the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District uses as a reservoir. Sand deltas had grown so large, someone had pitched a blue and white tent on one. Its creating new recreation, said Maribeth Gustafson, supervisor of the surrounding White River National Forest. Joseph Elsen, an engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said the tour was an excellent opportunity to see the affected areas that most people dont notice while driving or even walking by the creek. I think its important for all of us to realize this problem has been going on for 25-plus years, and its not going to get solved overnight, said Pete Kozinski, an engineer with the Colorado Department of Transportation who will be doing an environmental assessment of the possible effects of building a third lane on West Vail Pass.

Some of the successes the steering committee has had are the Sand Castle, a building at the top of the pass for storing the sand, and the sediment basins along the interstate. The basins, which the department of transportation is in charge of emptying, catch sand as rain or melting snow carries it off the road.

It will cost $20 million to completely control the sand within the highway corridor, said Bob Weaver, a consultant for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. The corridor comprises 30 feet on either side of the interstate, but not the creek. We dont know what the cost of all of the stream restoration work and projects that are needed outside the highway corridor to stabilize areas where the sediment has accumulated, Weaver said.There is some debate over whether its more important to clean up the highway corridor or restore the creek first, he said.There isnt any correct answer on this, Weaver said. You have to look at every situation at a case-by-case basis and evaluate which will do the most good.So far, the steering committee has received $450,000 in grant money, which was met with matching funds from Vail, Eagle County, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and the Colorado Department of Transportation, Weaver said. In all, a total of about $850,000 has been contributed for the sediment control projects.Nic Corbett can be reached at vdeditintern@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado


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