Douglas Muschett: Lowe’s environmental impact tough to gauge |

Douglas Muschett: Lowe’s environmental impact tough to gauge

Douglas Muschett
Ph.D., Silverthorne

Yes, like everyone else I’m glad to live here in the paradise we call Summit County, and I’m sure that most of us would like it to remain that way. Aside from forest and forest-fire related issues, here the air is crisp and clear, the water pure, wildlife seems to be abundant and we don’t have any environmental quality problems.

Or do we? A major part of the reason I testified on behalf of the plaintiffs vs. Lowe’s is that Lowe’s is part of a larger issue. No one really knows the state of the environment here in Summit County nor how Lowe’s will affect it. What’s worse, no one – not Lowe’s nor state or local government agencies or (I dare say) well-intentioned citizen groups – seem to be interested in finding out.

An area which seeks to have population growth and economic growth needs to have a good idea and baseline for the state of the environment and where it is headed. I can’t find the last time air quality was ever measured in Summit County – seemingly many years ago around the passing of wood-burning regulations. And there seem to be no measurements of important water quality variables (dissolved oxygen, toxics, solids) on any kind of systematic basis for the Blue River – let alone monitoring of critical insect populations. (There are occasional “fish shocking” exercises.)

It needs to be recognized in the case of Lowe’s, as well as the larger development picture, that many of the same unique physical and climate characteristics which make Summit County a wonderful place to live or visit also have the potential to cause very unique environmental impacts that are not on anybody’s radar screen.

The narrow valley and steep mountain walls surrounding Rte. 9 in the Silverthorne (and Breckenridge) area create persistent nighttime temperature inversions, which in conjunction with light nighttime winds, will cause an accumulation of air pollutants until well into the morning hours. In the case of Lowe’s, it is not sufficient to state – as did the recent Summit Daily article – that there are 38,000 vehicles daily already on I-70 and 25,000 on Rte. 9 versus only 3,200 vehicles (projected) daily in the vicinity of the Lowe’s site. Pollution from 38,000 vehicles on I-70 is well above ground and will mostly disperse over Lake Dillon and along a narrow corridor parallel to I-70. The pollution from 3,200 vehicles in the vicinity of the Lowe’s site would be expected to have proportionately larger vehicle emissions than the vehicles along Rte. 9 because of all the starting, stopping and low vehicle speeds associated with the traffic lights, parking lots and traffic congestion in the vicinity of Lowe’s.

Another unique characteristic here is the four months or so of accumulating snowpack followed by a couple weeks of rapid snowmelt and runoff. Although Lowe’s may have a state-of-the-art system for storm runoff from individual events to prevent pollution runoff, they also state that they will have a 5,500 square-foot site area dedicated to storing plowed snow. At 3,200 vehicles per day over the course of four months, there will be an accumulation of toxic pollutants from 400,000 additional vehicles both on the site and in other areas adjacent to the Blue River. Through the snowmelt, this toxic pollution is deposited in the Blue over a relatively short period of time.

My point is not to be an alarmist. Lowe’s may be correct that their environmental impact will be minimal. The problem is that no one really knows what the impact will be from Lowe’s – or any other development because current environmental assessments consist mostly of “word engineering” and not actual monitoring or modeling of what is going on.

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