Restoration work set to begin on next phase of Swan River project near Breckenridge
Reach B should be completed next year
The work continues on the Swan River Restoration Project as county staff received approval from the Summit Board of County Commissioners to begin the next steps in naturalizing more than 2 miles of the Swan River Valley impacted by historical dredge mining.
During the board’s work session meeting Tuesday, June 1, Jordan Mead and Brian Lorch of Summit County Open Space and Trails, along with Troy Thompson of Ecological Resource Consultants, presented the next phase in restoring a second stretch of the Swan River Valley.
The project includes two stretches of river, Reaches A and B, and is meant to restore the Swan River main stem and reconnect the three main tributaries of the Upper Swan River Valley. The project will eventually restore 12,200 linear feet of the stream channel.
Restoration work was completed on Reach A in 2019. The team said it was planning to do much of the same work along Reach B. Mead said that section of the project is about 4 to 6.5 miles from the intersection of Tiger Road and Colorado Highway 9 on the north end of Breckenridge.
“These dredged mine areas have a lot of large cobble-sized rocks, very little vegetation and subsurface stream flows in most locations,” Mead said. “So the goal of this project overall is to remove those mine spoils to utilize that material to generate revenue for the restoration while reestablishing a functional stream corridor and the associated in-stream and riparian habitats along this degraded stream corridor.”
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According to past Summit Daily reporting, the gravel material that has been mined has gone toward local highway and construction projects.
Some of the same work that was done on Reach A that also will be completed along Reach B includes using a soil liner for maintaining a perennial stream and planting a sizable amount of vegetation to stabilize the channel and banks. The team found that creating riffles and pools as well as adding a variety of in-stream features — like rocks, wood and other materials — was effective at strengthening aquatic species habitat. Thompson said the team would be introducing more of a variety of in-stream features to this stretch than it did in Reach A.
The team also plans to build a wider floodplain in this section of the stream than it did in Reach A. In Reach B, Thompson said the team plans to add more diversity to the channel in its cross-section widths.
Thompson also said restoration work on Reach A helped the team plan better for the second stretch. When restoring Reach A, Thompson said the team found a “considerable amount of mine waste” and that it mitigated that issue as it went along. Before starting construction, the team tested Reach B’s soil conditions and hasn’t yet found anything concerning.
“That was a good lesson to learn and plan for instead of adjust for in the process,” Thompson said.
There are multiple revenue streams funding the project: Lorch said gravel royalties were a huge fiscal source for the project. According to his presentation, that alone has amounted to nearly $400,000, and he said he’s expecting an additional $200,000 through 2021. Lorch’s department also received various grants from a variety of entities, all of which amounted to $720,000. The county and town of Breckenridge also chipped in $300,000 each for the project.
As for public concerns about the project, Lorch said most community members seem to understand the purpose of the project and don’t have any major objections.
“We’ve had these meetings now, give or take five of them, a lot of them before we started Reach A,” Lorch said. “I think people have come to understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and so we still continue to have a blog where people can get in touch with us. I have to say that people have generally gone quiet.”
Lorch noted that some community members were worried about murky waters when restoration work was occurring along Reach A and that this will likely happen again. He said it isn’t cause for concern.
“I must warn us all that we will hear from people when the river is cloudy,” Lorch said. “You can’t operate on gravel in the river without having some cloudy streams, so I do anticipate that. And then there is the offhand comment that people don’t like trucks on the road.”
Lorch said roughly 100 trucks would be needed to haul material out of the area and another 100 would be needed to help bring in material for restoration efforts.
The team has already designed and submitted its permit for the project. If granted, Lorch said work on this new stretch is expected to begin this summer and wrap up in 2022.
In general, Summit County commissioners Tamara Pogue and Josh Blanchard were in support of the project. Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence was not in attendance at the meeting.
“I don’t have any concerns with you proceeding at all,” Pogue said. “In fact, I think these are all important things that I think we need to continue working on and deeply appreciate the work thus far.”
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