Frisco moves forward with Meadow Creek wetlands mitigation project despite some opposition from neighbors
FRISCO — The wetlands west of Meadow Creek Park in Frisco might look a little different in the future as the town works to complete a mitigation project on the parcel, a move meant to return the land to its natural state and protect it from development in perpetuity.
The mitigation efforts come as a direct result of the town’s Big Dig Project — an excavation of dirt from the Dillon Reservoir’s lakebed — that was completed earlier this year. As part of the work, Frisco disturbed about 1.03 acres of wetlands near the marina and is required by the Army Corps of Engineers to replace the wetlands with a 2-to-1 ratio or about 2.1 acres.
The town initially planned to perform mitigation work on two sites, including an expansion of the existing wetlands at the Willow Preserve as well as the parcel west of Meadow Creek Park. But the proposal drew the ire of some of the residents living along Hawn Drive, who have a small stream running north of their property bordering the wetlands and feared the project would negatively affect the water feature.
Some in the group felt the proposal would be more palatable with assurances that the town would protect the larger site from any future development, leading the town to rededicate their efforts to preserving the near 11-acre parcel north of Hawn Drive. The project began last week, and is largely designed to try and revert the area to its original form before a diversion was placed in the floodplain sometime in the late 1970s.
“All it is really is putting the land back where it once was,” Frisco town manager Nancy Kerry said. “Somebody dug a channel and put the dirt on the upland of the wetlands. Now the water is running lower, and it was directed to some private property. By putting that same material that was once taken out back into the channel, and then planting and putting more native vegetation in there, the water will start to flow like it used to.”
Along with resurfacing of the parcel, the project also includes efforts to revegetate the area. Andy Herb, owner of AlpineEco and primary consultant on the project, said 17 types of native plants would be installed over the next couple weeks, including everything from lodgepole pine and blue spruce trees to things like bluejoint grass. The group also harvested willow cuttings from the site in the spring that were taken to a nursery in Buena Vista and grown in containers to be brought back to the site.
“We’re stocking the shelves for nature,” Herb said. “We know that these plants naturally occur there, and they can find their way. If you take a walk into the middle of that area, that’s what we want to reproduce: a mosaic of willows and shrubs and flowers. It’s a very heterogeneous habitat, and we’re trying to facilitate that diversity.”
The bulk of the mitigation will be completed this week, but there’s still work to be done to protect the land. Kerry said in order to protect the parcel in perpetuity, it has to be dedicated to another entity. In this case, the town is currently working with Colorado Open Lands, a nonprofit land trust that works to protect the state’s land and water resources. Once the land is dedicated — Kerry estimated sometime in November or December — Colorado Open Lands would be required to inspect it annually to assure there’s been no further development or tampering.
While protecting the land into the future might seem like a win for environmentalists and some residents in the area, other community members were left disillusioned with how the project unfolded.
Nancy Partyka, who owns one of the homes on Hawn Drive along with a section of the manmade stream south of the wetlands, criticized the town for not including homeowners who were affected by the project sooner in the process. She also said there was a fear among homeowners on the street that the loss of the water feature could have detrimental effects on their property values.
“The manmade channel was dug out in ’78 or ’79, so we just thought that’s what was there,” Partyka said. “That’s what we bought the property based on. And we were never part of the process. That’s one of the biggest things that’s upsetting about this whole thing.”
There aren’t any efforts to directly stop surface water from flowing to the privately owned stream, but ground water is a another story. Herb said the project includes lining the edge of the wetlands with an impermeable curtain to keep the manmade ditch from pulling ground water away from the wetlands, though surface water will be allowed to flow naturally. It almost certainly means less water in the residents’ private stream.
“With the spring runoff, we’re encouraging that to go wherever it wants,” Herb said. “But ground water is different. If we didn’t do this barrier, we couldn’t restore the low flow, and all of the water would be sucked out of the flood plane all the time.”
Partyka also noted that the preservation efforts on the land didn’t move the needle for many homeowners on Hawn Drive, some of whom believed the land was already protected in some capacity.
“The town came in and said, ‘Now it’s protected in perpetuity,’” Partyka said. “We thought it was anyway. We bought our houses thinking it was protected. … We were low-hanging fruit. That’s kind of how I felt. The contractors will go back to their homes, the council goes merrily on their way, and we’re left with a bad taste in our mouth.”
Kerry admitted that aspects of the planning process could have been improved in relation to the affected homeowners, but she noted that the project was in the community’s best interest and lauded residents for engaging with the project and sharing their viewpoints.
“Being clumsy in a process that includes a lot of members of the public isn’t your goal,” Kerry said. “But it’s not that uncommon because we don’t think for every single member of the public. We try to think about everybody’s perspective, but we can’t. Everybody did the right thing here. They got involved, we put out information, worked on solutions, the council took action, and we looked at the best interest of the public in the end.
“A manmade channel running through the backyard of four or five folks benefits their houses and their properties. But this preservation of open space benefits the entire community and the extended community. … I want to commend the public for speaking up and getting involved and paying attention.”
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