Polluted stream sparks government strife
VAIL PASS – Pollution of a tributary to Vail’s Gore Creek is roiling the relationship between two government agencies responsible for the health of the mountain stream that runs alongside I-70. Black Gore Creek, which flows down Vail Pass, has been choked by tons of sand that has spilled off the highway. The sand, along with liquid de-icers, is the kind used to prevent the highway from freezing in the winter. During the past few years, the U.S. Forest Service has prodded the Colorado Department of Transportation to clean the stream. The federal Forest Service is now urging the transportation department to expands its ongoing efforts to keep sand out of the creek.The so-called “traction” sand – 300,000 cubic-yards of it- have choked Black Gore Creek which runs alongside the highway, leading a state board to officially declare the steam “impaired” under the federal Clean Water Act.
That designation requires the cleanup of Black Gore Creek, and the state transportation department is partially responsible because it has permission to use Forest Service land for I-70. The transportation agency has focused its cleanup on sand within 30 feet of the highway. In a letter sent last week, the Forest Service asked the agency to also consider removing sand that has eroded off the hillsides alongside the highway and accumulated father down, on the banks of Black Gore Creek.”Although removal of sand from the roadside is an important part of the solution, the larger concern is the 100,000 to 150,000 cubic yards of sand that has accumulated adjacent to the highway and continues to work its way downhill into the creek,” wrote Don Carroll, acting White River forest supervisor. Over the last four years, $4.2 million has been spent removing sand, building 48 sediment traps and other structures meant to keep sand from washing into the creek. That money has come from a variety of sources including the town of Vail, Eagle County, local water districts, and federal and state grants.
It is estimated it will take $20 million just to clean up the sand that lines the roadways and to keep the polluting from getting worse.Perhaps the most visible evidence of the cleanup are the berms that have been built along the highway at East Vail to block traffic noise. The berms are constructed from the sand removed from Vail Pass.”We’ve done a lot, now we’re looking for some isolated sites that will allow us to prevent sand from reaching the stream,” said Caroline Bradford of the Eagle River Watershed Council, a Minturn-based conservation group. The organization’s Black Gore Creek Steering Committee has been an important force in gathering various local, regional, state and federal agencies to work on the sand cleanup.
And the problem on Vail Pass isn’t unique. The transportation department continues to try to keep sand out of Summit County’s Straight Creek, which flows down the western approach to the Eisenhower Tunnel.Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado