Gore Creek fouled by pipe cleaners
When longtime resident Greg Samson walked into Vail Village Wednesday for a mid-morning cup of coffee, he was appalled at what he saw.
Town of Vail workers cleaning out a sediment trap in a storm sewer just north of the Covered Bridge caused an ugly stream of sludge to flow from a culvert into the gin-clear water of Gore Creek.
“It was the ugliest, dirtiest sewer-smelling silt and dirt,” said Samson. “They were using a high-pressure hose to stir up the dirt in the trap. It was ugly and smelled like sewer.”
Samson knows a thing or two about water quality issues. He’s a contractor who has taken great pains on his projects to protect water quality by installing sediment traps and erosion fencing.
“We spend a lot of time and money making sure the river stays clean,
he said. “I’m a sport-fisherman. I’ve built trout ponds and we obey strict (water quality) rules.”
He’s also a plaintiff in the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. Oil from that massive spill oiled the beaches of the fishing lodge he was operating on Kodiak Island. He saw what happened when water gets polluted there, so he was pretty upset, he said, when he saw man’s activities once again polluting a clean body of water.
“There are lots of brown and rainbow trout in that stretch of stream,” he said. “The brown trout are spawning now. They should have known better. It was unacceptable.”
Samson called the town and alerted workers to the problem, which occurred for about an hour and 20 minutes. The crews, working near the Covered Bridge, stopped what they were doing and even placed some hay bales to filter the flow of the sludge. Samson took photos.
“What can I say? We violated one of our own core values of environmental stewardship,” said town spokeswoman Suzanne Silverthorn. “We owe the community an apology. We can and will do better in the future. It’s not the way we typically do business.”
Silverthorn said the town wants to publicly commend Samson for his actions.
“His actions helped to bring this to a quick end,” Silverthorn said.
Crews cleaning the system stopped what they were doing, said Larry Pardee, Vail’s streets and management manager, and installed check dams in the drainage system. The town then contacted the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which brought in a huge vacuum truck used to suck the dirty water and sediment out of the traps. In addition to sand, it contains the drainage from Meadow Drive and the Covered Bridge area, Pardee said.
“It probably contained silt and whatever oils and grease were in there,” he said.
The water and filthy silt was stored in a detention pond at the town’s public works facility, Pardee said.
It is estimated that 350 to 400 gallons of contaminated water flowed into the creek, Pardee said.
The cleaning is part of a twice-a-year maintenance of the town’s storm-water catchment-basin system. The problem in the past, Pardee said, has been odor, not sediment.
In hindsight, Pardee said the crews should have realized their work was contaminating the creek and should have set up erosion control. Pardee said crews cleaning the system now will be more vigilant of problems that could harm area waterways.
“I’ve got two young kids and I want them to enjoy the beauty we have when they get our age,” Pardee said.
Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or firstname.lastname@example.org