Two river restoration proposals get thumbs up |

Two river restoration proposals get thumbs up

Cliff Thompson

A decision will be made Friday by a board of trustees overseeing $3.2 million Natural Resource Damage Fund, the result of fines levied against the mine’s owner, Viacom. The trustees consist of representatives from the state Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The recommendations cap nearly 15 years of restoration efforts.

A $1.1 million proposal to reshape and revegetate 0.8 miles of the river through Minturn has received conditional approval from the work group.

The project calls for narrowing the stream channel to increase water depth and the number of pools and riffles, for better aquatic habitat. It also calls for redirecting the channel of the river and proposes creating more wetlands and riparian areas. Heavy equipment would be used for in-stream excavating and filling. That work, said engineer Troy Thompson of Ecological Resource Consultants, who developed the plan, would be done in low-flow summer months and would be completed prior the late fall spawning of brown trout.

The project has generated some public backlash, however, from some Minturn residents and homeowners who feared the town was attempting to acquire land along the river through condemnation. A revision has removed most of those concerns by recommending half a dozen conditions to the proposal.

The work group has recommended conditional approval, however, with some modifications by its sponsor, the town of Minturn:

– Delete any reference to acquiring and surveying 0.8 acres of land along the 300,400 and 500 blocks of town that adjoin the river. That activity will be restricted to the 100 block only.

– Pursue a buffer zone along the entire reach of the project through deed restrictions, zoning changes and other means to protect the integrity of the river.

– Build no recreation path or other improvements along the 100 block.

– Stop plowing snow into the river and pursue compliance with the Northwest Colorado Council of Government’s regarding snow storage.

– Resolve the issue of public access points along the reach of river being improved to protect private property rights.

– Replace Cemetery Bridge, which now creates a scour-point because it is too narrow.

Conservation easement

A second recommended project involves purchasing a $300,000 conservation easement on the Westermann-Phelps parcel, 62.5 acres of wetlands and pastures along the East Fork of the Eagle River near Tennessee Pass.

Placing the land under a conservation easement would forever protect it from development. The land contains seven springs, nearly 30 acres of wetlands, as well as the remnants of Taylor City, an historic silver mining town that operated in the 1880s.

The Eagle Valley Land Trust has committed $30,000 toward purchasing the easement. The landowner, Marjorie Westermann, approached the Land Trust with the idea of an easement on the land. While she would retain title to the land, it could not be developed and would have restrictions on its use.

No go on more flow

Not recommended for funding, however, was a third, $1.3 million proposal sponsored by the town of Minturn to acquire a restriction on 500 acre-feet of water stored in Eagle Park Reservoir, east of Camp Hale. That proposal restricted water stored there from being diverted out of basin. Water in Eagle Park sits at the head of three drainages and could be pumped into Ten Mile Creek in Summit County, into the headwaters of the Arkansas River, or into the Eagle River. That water was largely available for release in winter months, proponents said.

“It’s not the end yet,” said Caroline Bradford of the Eagle River Watershed Council. “We’re at the holding-our-breath stage.”

Cleaning up

Destruction of seven miles of river from the mine to Dowd Junction began in 1983 when the mine closed. Then, tailings and mineworks were no longer slaked with lime and the untreated mine waste leached into the river, contaminating it with metals and acidic water. The Eagle Mine was declared a Superfund Cleanup Site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, making it eligible for special funding.

The zinc mine had more than 75 miles of tunnels beneath Gilman. An EPA and state-supervised $60 million cleanup began in 1988 and was completed in October 2000.

In April, studies showed much of the aquatic life has returned to the damaged stretch of the river, with fish counts showing promising numbers of trout.

A second phase of NRDS funding has not yet been scheduled. Approximately $1.8 million remains in the fund.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or

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