Dillon Ridge wetlands could be developed
DILLON – Even as thousands of cars, RVs and tanker trucks speed by it every day, the little patch of wetlands at the entrance to the Dillon Ridge shopping center still provides shelter for red-winged blackbirds, trilling and chasing bugs in the dense willow thickets. But there’s a chance that at least part of the wetland could be developed in the next few years, according to town manager Jack Benson, who said town officials discussed the parcel with developer Kirk Beardsley at a recent work session.According to Benson, Beardsley asked whether town administrators would formally support a development application with a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates the wetlands.Benson said town council members did not address the question head-on in the work session because of the quasijudicial nature of any subsequent vote, but that it “seems there might have been some consensus that it might pass.”Beardsley and Dillon Ridge developer Miller Weingarten confirmed the preliminary talks and said it’s much too early to speculate about what might be developed on the parcel.”We’re trying to find out what the prospects are. We have no timing in mind, no specific use in mind,” Beardsley said. The parcel is a designated wetlands, although part of it was previously filled as the access road was built.EPA officials previously took a strong stand against eliminating the wetlands, based in part on continuing concern about cumulative wetland losses in Summit County.
The EPA formally requested a preapplication meeting with Beardsley, who has taken the request under advisement, according to EPA wetlands specialist Sarah Fowler.The issue goes back to the original development of Dillon Ridge, when Fowler said she met with the Corps and the developers on-site to discuss the best options for access to the shopping center. From the EPA’s standpoint, the best option is the least damaging environmentally, and of course that may not always mesh with the best engineering and transportation solutions.Fowler said the EPA pressed the issue and even had a study done, but that the Corps issued the permit regardless of the EPA recommendations. But at the time, the EPA and Corps did agree to preserve at least part of the wetlands – thus the patch that exists there now.Experts may argue over what functions and values the wetlands parcel retains, but Fowler also said the big picture is important. “These towns are going to have nothing left if they continue on this trend. Is that what they want? Is that what their constituents want?” Fowler asked.
The ‘medium quality’ wetlandBenson said the nature of the wetland was discussed – whether it’s an artificial patch that was created by drainage from construction to begin with, for example. That raises the questions whether the area is isolated and if it is important for wildlife habitat and for purifying stormwater runoff.Tony Curtis, the Frisco-based Corps regulator, describes the one-acre-plus parcel as a “medium quality” wetland that does function as wildlife habitat and to purify water. In his view of Corps rules, the patch of willows is a jurisdictional wetland, requiring a public review and permitting process, a process that could result in some sort of mitigation proposal.”We met … to discuss the possibility of impacting that wetland to further develop the market place,” Curtis said. “I suggested they talk with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and told them it would be an uphill battle. It was the EPA, as I understand it, that was pressing hardest to keep that wetland intact,” he said.Benson said there was some discussion as to whether the Corps of Engineers would even take jurisdiction over the wetlands. Some national rule changes and court rulings in recent years have redefined parts of the agency’s regulatory roles. Isolated wetlands in particular no longer have the protection they previously had.
But Curtis said clearly that he considers it a jurisdictional wetlands, connected hydrologically to Straight Creek via storm drains and roadside ditches. Curtis said there are recent court cases addressing the status of isolated wetlands.Troubled landThe Dillon Ridge wetlands were also at issue a couple of years ago. Stormwater runoff from the highway eroded a deep channel in the embankment above the willows, forcing sand and gravel to encroach on a buffer zone around the wetlands.At the time, Dillon town officials, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and the Dillon Ridge developers agreed to work together to maintain the area. CDOT ended up installing a drainage system to capture the sediment and keep water flowing into the wetlands.Bob Berwyn can be reached at email@example.com.
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