Frisco residents push back against potential wetland mitigation site
Frisco is set to begin a wetlands mitigation project in conjunction with the Big Dig at the Frisco Bay Marina later this year, though the proposed location of the project has spurred concerns among some residents that the move could have negative impacts on their property values.
As part of the Big Dig — a major excavation of Dillon Reservoir’s lakebed — the town disturbed about 1.03 acres of wetlands, and is required by the Army Corps of Engineers to perform mitigation projects on at least 2.1 acres of wetlands as compensation.
Andy Herb, owner of AlpineEco and the primary consultant on the project, said he’s been looking for potential locations for mitigation for some time, eventually landing on two sites: Hawn Drive and Willow Preserve.
Herb’s initial proposal is to expand existing wetlands by about 1.7 acres at Willow Preserve — east of Ten Mile Drive and west of the reservoir. The other .41 acres would come from north of Hawn Drive, to the west of Meadow Creek Park.
“The reason I landed on those two is because of mitigation strategies,” said Herb. “There are many ways to build wetlands. The most successful, cost-efficient and ecologically beneficial way to do that is to restore wetlands that were lost.
Sometimes we’ll have wetlands that have impairments, whether it’s road crossings, old ditches or it was dewatered for other reasons. We can remove those impairments and restore what was there originally.”
That’s the plan for the Hawn Drive site. Before the area was developed, the Meadow Creek floodplain ran through the neighborhood until a diversion was put in place in the late 1970s, and a channel was excavated just north of where a row of homes now sits. Herb is proposing filling in the existing man-made channel and regrading the land to its original level. From there, the land would be given back to nature, allowing diversions and channels to form based on the natural topography and through beaver activity in the area.
The project is expected to have a number of positive effects on the area, including improved wildlife habitats, flood attenuation, water quality and aesthetics, among others.
The issue is that the channel — which supports flowing water along the north part of the neighborhood — belongs to homeowners along Hawn Drive. And property owners aren’t happy about the proposal.
Bastiaan Pot, who’s lived on the channel for more than a decade, said that residents in the neighborhood aren’t against conservation efforts, but that the potential loss of property and sentimental values attached to the water feature is a hard pill to swallow. Nancy Partyka, another homeowner on Hawn Drive, agreed.
“We’re feeling like our voices aren’t being heard,” said Partyka. “Many of the people in the area bought their homes because of the creek, and now they feel like they’ve been deceived, and their property values are going to be compromised.”
Herb said that the town could perform the mitigation on the Hawn Drive site without doing any work on the private land by creating a diversion away from the resident-owned portions of the channel. Herb said while it’s impossible to guarantee what would happen to the channel, it’s likely it would be left much drier.
While avoiding private land does appear to be an option, it’s not ideal. Because of the depth of the channel it could still pull water out of the floodplain, reducing the ecological functionality of the wetlands.
“My plan as it sits today, looking holistically, is to fix what’s broken,” said Herb. “That doesn’t have to occur … we can do our work, stop our fill at the end of town property and do an impermeable barrier to keep the groundwater from leaking out of our restoration site … if we leave this channel in place it’s going to want to pull water out of the site.”
Some homeowners have already expressed a willingness to work with the town to allow the project to go forward in exchange for assurances that the plots to the north of the neighborhood are protected from development in perpetuity. If the mitigation is ultimately performed at the Hawn Drive site, it actually might not be a huge ask.
As part of the agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers, any compensatory wetlands restored or created would be protected forever from development by federal law. Thad Renaud, the town’s attorney, noted that the rest of the land in the area is already designated as open space, meaning the town can’t sell the land without a citizen vote.
“We’re hoping if we give up the creek, the entire parcel would be protected,” said Pot. “That would be a nice trade, and it would allow us to contribute to that conservation effort.”
The proposed mitigation efforts would cost the town an estimated $360,000, including consulting, construction and contingencies. Herb said construction would largely be quick and non-obtrusive, likely beginning in August and lasting through mid-September to complete both sites.
Herb also presented alternative options to the town, including performing the entire mitigation at Willow Preserve, partnering with other towns or the county to find alternative sites and more. But any substantial delays in the schedule could spur a violation of the Army Corps’ permit, meaning the town could have to perform additional mitigation efforts.
No decisions have been made yet, and the town is still weighing the best options for how to move forward with the required work.
“The goal was to get rid of the artificial feature, and restore the floodplain all the way to the natural extent as we can, and give the landowners the amenity of having the natural floodplain in the backyard,” said Herb. “I understand the flowing water concern, but we would have an intact floodplain the way it was pre-1977.”
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