Erosion program changes leadership |

Erosion program changes leadership

summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” With a new contractor taking the lead, the Summit Water Quality Committee will continue educating builders about mandatory rules to control sediment and runoff at local construction sites.

The committee recently hired HP Geotech, a for-profit company, to benefit local erosion control efforts, filling the position formerly held by Doug Trieste.

“I’m kind of excited. Every three to five years, the program has shifted in different directions,” said water quality program director Lane Wyatt.

Sediment escaping from building sites degrades streams and wetlands. The pollution can be limited by careful construction and maintenance of fences, berms and containment ponds. The federal Clean Water Act includes stringent provisions requiring the control of stormwater runoff, requiring that all runoff be contained on site.

Local efforts have not always met those standards, according to Trieste and previous erosion control experts. The pollution from a single building site may not be great, but cumulatively, the sediment can choke plants, streams and wetlands, according to the EPA. Diminished water quality in local watersheds is costly to treat and harms fish and invertebrates in the streambed.

“You go out in the spring, things are a mess. You try and coerce, educate, people get reminded of what they need to do,” Wyatt said.

For the past five years, the position was held by Trieste, who raised a few hackles with his direct approach to the issue of erosion control.

Trieste recently sent an e-mail to the Summit Water Quality Committee, outlining his concerns with the way the transition was handled.

Trieste said politics played a role in his ouster. He said the town of Breckenridge indicated to the committee that it would not continue to participate in the program if Trieste remained in the position.

Trieste was often frustrated by the lack of enforcement associated with the program.

While he always acknowledged that many local contractors are responsible and do their best to meet local and federal requirements, he also said there were many cases of violations in local jurisdictions that were not adequately resolved.

“Our relationship with Doug was such that we’d use our own erosion control people,” said Breckenridge town engineer Tom Daugherty, adding that Trieste lost the trust and confidence of the town’s staff.

“He didn’t come to the town first,” Daugherty said, referring to last summer’s controversy about erosion control measures at a federal mine waste repository in French Creek. “Instead, he sent an email to the paper and a council member … It’s very important that the town get first crack.

“I know that Doug feels like we wasn’t responded to, and I respect that,” Daugherty continued. “But we felt that we’d rather not use him.” Daugherty said the town wanted to work with someone who could be trusted to follow communication protocol.

Trieste said he did not contact the town first because of previous lack of responsiveness.

Trieste’s style of communicating about erosion control problems was in the spotlight last summer, when the EPA moved piles of lead-tainted mine waste from national forest land near the Claimjumper condos on Airport Road to a permanent storage site near the Wellington-Oro mine.

According to Trieste, the EPA was not meeting local or federal standards for controlling runoff during construction of the repository. The EPA officials in charge said the nature of the cleanup action exempted them from meeting those guidelines.

In his e-mail to the water quality committee, Trieste wrote: “Inspection of the site revealed that it had a very high potential for toxic mine waste entering the waterways ” simply, it had no sediment and erosion control protection. The toxic mine waste material could enter French Creek, in addition to roadside ditches and the densely populated Wellington Neighborhood. I confronted the project superintendent (EPA), but he refused to install BMPs (best management practices) and was not concerned about toxic mine waste material leaving the site.”

“Thus with regard to Wellington Repository, I saw that as an emergency with no time to spare … I felt a professional obligation to the community to act otherwise to try and avert a crisis in all good faith and not trying to make the town look bad as had been indicated,” Trieste wrote, explaining his decision to make his concerns public.

Heavy rains fell in the area shortly after Trieste contacted elected officials and the Summit Daily published a story about the potential problem. According to Trieste, the EPA then scrambled to keep sediment from leaving the site, as required by the federal Clean Water Act.

Trieste and other observers said they saw water running off the repository site on to the road and nearby drainage ditches. Simple measures like a containment pond and more extensive berms could have prevented the runoff, Trieste said.

EPA officials said their drainage system worked as planned and contained the runoff adequately.

Daugherty said the Wellington repository was a politically sensitive issue, and a project over which the town had no jurisdiction. Trieste’s way of dealing with the issue may have increased tensions among the stakeholders in that project, he said.

Several years previously, Trieste drew attention when state officials were called to investigate runoff problems in Breckenridge Highlands as the result of a citizen complaint.

“The town was really gunshy,” Wyatt said. “We’re handling this program as a watershed, and if somebody is uncomfortable, we try to find other options.”

“Everybody trusts his knowledge,” Wyatt said, referring to Trieste’s expertise in the field. “But when Doug raises something and someone doesn’t respond fast enough … It’s amazing to me he would come out and say things like this when the towns are paying his salary.”

Another member of the water quality group also acknowledged Trieste’s service.

“Doug did a great job, his service was a benefit to the community,” said Zach Margolis, Silverthorne’s utility manager. “But there have been differences of opinion. I don’t think he’s been fully appreciative of all the efforts going on besides his own.”

Learn more about erosion control runoff and pollution prevention at this EPA website:

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