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River restoration project needs more paperwork

Cliff Thompson

A $1.3 million proposal submitted by the town of Minturn to rework 0.8 miles of the river channel through Minturn has created some access and property ownership concerns by residents and for the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, which is overseeing the bidding for up to $2 million in funding.

The primary concern of the Health Department, said project manager Wendy Naugle, is securing an access agreement from the Union Pacific Railroad, which owns large sections of land on the east side of the river.

“We want a written agreement,” Naugle said. “We can’t do construction on someone else’s property.”



The project calls for narrowing the river channel to increase its depth and increase the number of pools and riffles. It also calls for redirecting the channel to create more wetlands and riparian areas.

To do that, 1.6 acres of disparate and untitled parcels of land along the riverbank needs to be acquired. But some of that land is being used as back yards by residents of Minturn.



Should this project be funded, Naugle said, those parcels need to be protected by a conservation easement. That would protect the property used for the restoration project in perpetuity – but still allow residents to use it, Naugle said.

The deadline for providing documentation is Dec. 10.

Two other projects also were submitted. The first calls for purchasing a $300,000 conservation easement on 62.5 acres of wetlands and high meadows at the headwaters of the south fork of the Eagle River, 16 miles south of Minturn near Tennessee Pass. A conservation easement will protect existing uses of the property, as well as prevent future development.



Protecting the wetlands on the headwaters of the Eagle River would help ensure water quality, said Tom Page of the Eagle County Land Trust.

Another proposal, which would cost an estimated $1.1 million, calls for acquiring a restriction on up to 500 acre-feet of water stored in the Eagle Park Reservoir, on the east fork of the Eagle River east of Camp Hale. The restriction would keep that water in the Eagle River and prevent it from being used for out-of-basin water trades. The particulars of when releases of water would be made are up to the board of directors of the Eagle Park Reservoir Company, said water attorney Glenn Porzak, who represents the company.

The Natural Resource Damage Fund is comprised of the proceeds from a $1.7 million fine assessed to the Eagle Mine’s owner, Viacom, as part of the $70 million cleanup of the pollution caused when the mine and treatment of tailings shut down in 1983. The resulting acidic and metals-laden pollution killed aquatic life in the Eagle River from the mine below Gilman to Dowd Junction where water from Gore Creek diluted the pollution. Cleanup of the mine and its tailings ended last year, but monitoring of river water quality continues.

A work group consisting of local, state and federal officials is reviewing river restoration proposals submitted for the fund. Those recommendations will be forwarded to a board of governors for a decision on which of the proposals will be funded. A second public meeting to review the proposals will be held in Minturn Dec. 10.

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


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