CDOT hopes to clear sediment trap near Vail as environment groups worry
EAGLE COUNTY The sediment basins along Interstate 70 can do a pretty good job of preventing traction sand from polluting Black Gore Creek – until they fill up, at least.Local environmental groups have been particularly worried about the Basin of Last Resort, a 3-acre stretch of Black Gore Creek around mile marker 183 that’s been trapping sand and slowing downstream pollution since I-70 was built.But the sand, now piled to the top of the basin pool, can more easily wash away and settle at the bottom of nearby Gore Creek, smothering the insects that feed fish and make the ecosystem thrive. The Basin of Last Resort isn’t so effective anymore.Members of the Eagle River Watershed Council have been asking the Colorado Department of Transportation to clean out the tons of sand in the basin for some time, and it looks as if some action could finally take place.Department of Transportation representatives said they definitely want to clear out the Basin of Last Resort and make it a habit, but they have some convincing to do.Region Director Ed Fink said his department doesn’t set aside money for these types of projects in its budget, so his higher-ups have to truly understand the urgency of the situation.”We have to build a case to get the funds,” Fink said. “We’ve never gone to CDOT with something like this. We have to show that it’s not just a good idea. We’ve got to be able to show it’s an emergency.”Part of the urgency comes from concerns that the Department of Transportation won’t be able to meet its full commitments in removing traction sand from I-70. The department is performing an environmental assessment on the Vail Pass area, and new construction projects, like more sediment basins, aren’t allowed to start until the assessment is complete. Fink said clearing out the Basin of Last Resort will show good faith of their efforts and give them time to get some more basins up and clear out more sand.Representatives from the town of Vail, Eagle County Water & Sanitation District and the Forest Service said they were supportive of the plan. Caroline Bradford, executive director of the Watershed Council, said this is a huge step in cleaning up the waterways. “It’s so full of sand you can walk across it and only get your ankles wet,” Bradford said. “This is the first time they’ve said they would take the lead on a project not right next to the pavement of the interstate. This shows they’re changing some of their thinking.”An old fishing holeThe Basin of Last Resort wasn’t originally meant to be a sediment trap. At first, it was just a pool of water. When I-70 was built, the basin caught water runoff from the highway. Wildlife services later made it a recreation spot and stocked the pond with fish until the sand started showing up. The basin sort of inherited its position as a major sediment trap. The land is flatter in this stretch of the stream, and the water moves more slowly, which allows the sediment to settle. The hope now is that if the basin is cleared, it will do the same thing again and prevent sand from floating downstream into more fragile areas.CDOT engineer Pete Kozinski said cleaning the sediment out of the basin will require a few things: diverting the river through a pipe, letting the basin dry up, hauling the sediment away and returning the creek back to normal. Pathways also will be created for truck access to the water.”It will allow more sand to deposit there instead of flushing through the system and going to Gore Creek,” Kozinski said. “Now, instead of sand filling it, there will be water.”Clearing the basin would then become a more regular thing, but it wouldn’t have to happen every year. CDOT would rather focus on clearing out sand near the highway and preventing it from falling to the water level, Region One Transportation Director Jeff Kullman said.
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