Company to pay $9 million for damage to Rocky Mountain Park
ESTES PARK – An irrigation company has agreed to pay $9 million for damages caused to Rocky Mountain National Park from a ditch that overflowed in the park in 2003, the U.S. Justice Department said Monday.Federal officials called it the largest settlement in the history of the 1907 Park System Resource Protection Act.The Justice Department sued Water Supply and Storage Co. of Fort Collins last year over a breach in the Grand River Ditch that scoured a mountainside and forced the temporary closure of trails and campsites.”This settlement will allow the restoration of critical habitat within Rocky Mountain National Park and protection of the essential headwaters of the Colorado River,” said Ronald Tenpas, assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources.Park Superintendent Vaughn Baker said the park service’s goal was to restore resources that were damaged by the breach.”Now we can start,” he said.Company officials did not immediately return a call seeking comment.The ditch brings water over the Continental Divide and carves a path through the mountains above the headwaters of the Colorado River. The government’s suit said the Park System Resource Protection Act required the company to maintain the ditch.The lawsuit claimed the company in 2003 began removing snow, ice and debris from the canal two weeks later than in previous years despite a written warning from a park employee citing fears of a possible breach.The breach sent water rushing from an altitude of 10,000 feet – 1,000 feet above the valley below – and “dramatically rearranged” the shape of the upper Colorado River, the National Park Service said at the time.According to the government’s lawsuit, the spill cut a gully about 160 feet wide and 60 feet deep, ripping out lodgepole pines and damaging an old growth spruce and fir forest.”A large portion of the mountainside below the breach was washed to the valley floor by the erosive power of water, rock, mud and vegetation,” the lawsuit said.
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