River restoration hinges on land issues | VailDaily.com

River restoration hinges on land issues

Cliff Thompson

A second proposal for protecting 62.5 acres of wetlands and high meadows along the East Fork of the Eagle River with a $300,000 conservation easement has been funded with a minor recommendation.

A state board of trustees overseeing the $3.2 million Natural Resources Damage Fund, created to restore portions of the Eagle River damaged by the Eagle Mine at Gilman during the 1980s and “90s, gave Minturn until April 1 to resolve issues.

Those issues include:

– Controversy over the town’s plans for ownership of untitled lands next to the river.

– Not having more funding partners in the restoration project.

If the town is unable to resolve the issues, the project will be delayed until a second funding cycle because it will miss a short and specifically timed low-water construction season.

“Of particular concern,” write the trustees, “were the lack of funding partners, the controversy over the acquisition of the 0.8 acres of land along the 300 through 500 blocks (of Minturn) and the overall cost of the project.”

The town had planned on acquiring untitled land along the river that in many cases had served as back yards for residents. The resulting uproar over fears the town wanted to acquire the land through condemnation caused an 11th-hour change in the language of the proposal that left the untitled land alone.

“We don’t see this delaying anything,” says Minturn Mayor Earl Bidez. “We will be going after more funding, including an energy impact assistant grant and GOCO (Greater Outdoors Colorado) lottery funding that we will use for Playuella Park.”

Bidez says the town will be working with landowners along the river to ensure protection of the restored section.

Additional funding the town is seeking will be used to replace the Cemetery Road Bridge, which is too narrow for the river channel, resulting in scouring of the river channel beneath the bridge and erosion downstream, experts say.

The trustees also withheld $15,000 earmarked for surveying untitled land from the restoration proposal, suggesting Minturn seek additional funding from other organizations.

Meanwhile, the 62.5-acre Westermann Phelps property at the base of Tennessee Pass will now be protected from development with a conservation easement. The parcel contains wetlands and streams, as well as the remnants of Taylor City, a 19th-Century silver-mining town. The trustees suggest Eagle County limit the number of dwellings built on parcels adjacent to the protected property.

Not funded was a $1.1 million river-flow-enhancement proposal also submitted by Minturn. That money would have restricted use of 500 acre-feet of water stored in Eagle Park Reservoir, east of Camp Hale, to use in the Eagle River Basin.

Because of its location near the Continental Divide, water stored in the reservoir could easily be pumped over the divide into the headwaters of the Arkansas River or into Summit County’s Ten Mile Creek.

The Natural Resource Damage Fund was established during settlement of the $70 million cleanup of the Eagle Mine between the Colorado Department of Health, the state Attorney General’s Office and Viacom, owner of the Eagle Mine. A $1.7 million fine against Viacom has gained interest and now is worth $3.2 million, $2 million of which is available for river restoration projects this year.

A second round of funding likely will occur after completion of the projects funded the first time, says Wendy Naugle of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, which oversees the project.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com.

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