Feds eyeing sand cleanup

Matt Zalaznick

U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, who has supported a two-year effort by local activists to clean out Black Gore Creek, has urged the state to seek federal funding to prevent further pollution caused by sand that oozes off Interstate 70.

“I understand the long-term solutions will be costly, and I ask that you add this to your list of priorities,” McInnis wrote last week in a letter to Tom Norton, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation.

McInnis suggested CDOT make cleaning up Black Gore Creek a priority for federal funding in fiscal year 2004.

Cleaning out the creek won’t be cheap, however. A study done for CDOT, known as the Sediment Control Action Plan, estimates it will cost $15 million to $20 million just to prevent any more sand from getting into the Black Lakes or Black Gore Creek, whose waters eventually reach the Eagle River via Gore Creek in Vail.

“We’re ready, willing and able. We’ve got a plan. We just haven’t started on the money,” Norton said. “I respect Scott; I understand what he wants. And we’re more than willing to use any additional federal funds that come our way to help with the clean up.”

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Over the past 30 years, an estimated 300,000 tons of sand have been poured on the lanes of I-70 up and over Vail Pass to keep the highway clear for skiers, big rigs, commuters and other travellers.

But the Sediment Control Action Plan, also known as “the SCAP,” doesn’t discuss how to dredge out sand that is already clogging the creek or the miles of piles lining the freeway that are up to 6 feet deep.

“We haven’t disagreed with the significance of the problem,” Norton said. “That’s part of the reason we’ve gone to mag chloride – to avoid these multi-million dollar problems.”

In the past two years, the Black Gore Creek Steering Committee and the Eagle River Watershed Council, with support from the town of Vail and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, have spent tens of thousands of dollars on smaller projects aimed at stemming the flow of sand.

“Our goals for this summer are continuing to explore ways that we can support the county commissioners and our members of Congress to find necessary funding to implement the SCAP without negatively impacting safety projects in Eagle County,” said Caroline Bradford, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council.

McInnis’ letter comes after all three members of the Eagle County Board of Commissioners traveled to Washington seeking federal support for Black Gore Creek. So far, the commissioners have said they do not want to redirect transportation funds initially meant for safety improvements in Eagle County toward cleaning up Black Gore Creek.

The commissioners did bring with them to Washington, however, a report written by biologists working with the Watershed Council who have been trying to determine how much damage the sand is doing to fish in Black Gore Creek.

The biologists say they have not yet determined the extent of the damage because they’ve only done one year of testing on fish and water flows in the creek. They have used two other, healthier streams near Vail Pass, however, to more quickly get a handle on the problems in Black Gore Creek.

In those comparisons, for instance, they found Black Gore Creek had smaller rocks and pebbles on its bottom than other Vail Pass creeks. That indicates more road sand has leaked into the water because mountain streams typically have larger rocks than what were found in Black Gore Creek.

Where the $15 million will come from has not yet been identified but the clean has begun.

Last summer, the ground surrounding CDOT’s giant sand storage facility at Vail Pass was paved, making it easier for trucks to pick up spilled sand. A series of barriers were then built around the shed to prevent further run-off.

And culvert is now planned for under the bike path at a steep and avalanche prone section of Vail Pass known as the narrows. The pipe should divert water that pours down the highway away from the creek, Bradford said.

“It can transport a lot of sediment when water picks up speed,” Bradford said. “The culvert will divert it before it hits that steep section.”

Basins to hold sediment will also be built near the higher of the two truck ramps on Vail Pass, Bradford said.

Eagle County adds $30,000 to aid cleanup efforts

A coalition of entities seeking to clean up Vail Pass – the Black Gore Creek Steering Committee, the Eagle River Watershed Council, the town of Vail and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District – got a $30,000 boost on Tuesday.

The Eagle County commissioners said they would allocate $20,000 in matching funds, plus and additional $10,000 ,to supplement the $700,000 the coalition already had for clean up projects this summer.-

The original $700,000 includes $325,000 from CDOT and a $237,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 606 or via e-mail at

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