Wetlands impact from Home Depot questioned | SummitDaily.com

Wetlands impact from Home Depot questioned

BOB BERWYN
summit daily news

FRISCO ” The impact from retail development on the Meadow Creek wetlands adjacent to the 9.4-acre parcel should be considered by voters, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wetlands expert Tony Curtis. The town of Frisco has said all along it will do what it can to limit the impact of the wetlands through any development on the 9.4-acre parcel. Frisco citizens will vote on Tuesday to decide whether the town can begin negotiations with Home Depot.

Impacts from any retail development will be tough to determine until two things happen: an affirmative vote is announced on Tuesday and the town planning department can lay down its ground rules for construction through negotiations with Home Depot.

Curtis compared the Meadow Creek wetlands to a prized Cucumber Gulch wetlands parcel in Breckenridge. But Curtis added, while it’s not quite the same as Cucumber Gulch, the Frisco wetlands have close to an equal value from a scientific, biological perspective.

Frisco community development director Mark Gage said the town has recognized the biological values of the Meadow Creek wetlands by placing them in an open space zoning district. He said town codes are adequate for protecting wetlands when it comes to a project the size of the Home Depot proposal.

Gage said the Home Depot proposal as envisioned would be LEEDS certified, meeting stringent environmental standards. That includes not only the building itself, but all planning and design for the site, from lot line to lot line.

The preliminary plans, as he understands them, include a “pretty involved drainage and filtration system, as well as landscaped berms that should address the Corps’s concerns,” Gage said.

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Curtis is particularly concerned about a recent print ad that urged citizens to vote “Yes” in Frisco’s Tuesday special election. The ad, paid for by the Friends for Frisco’s Future, claimed the development won’t impact the wetlands, but Curtis said that simple statement is misleading.

According to Curtis, the indirect environmental effects, especially considered in a cumulative context, could be significant if the potential development doesn’t incorporate adequate best management practices, including buffers, drainage and runoff control and filtration.

Chris Eby, treasurer of the group that ran the ad, said the no-wetlands-impact statement in the ad was based on information the group got from the town, and from information disclosed during the request for proposal process.

“That (ad) is based on input our consultants got from the town of Frisco. If there is an ad that is not accurate on our part, that’s something I’d like to clear up,” Eby said, going on to question the timing of the Corps’ comments.

“This seems to be tainted a little bit,” Eby said. “Is this a story of substance or a huge conflict of interest?”

Curtis owns property and lives on Hawn Drive, adjacent to the Meadow Creek wetlands, and acknowledged that there is at least the potential for the appearance of a conflict of interest.

But he said he speaks as the certified Corps wetlands scientist in Summit County, responsible for protecting and maintaining the physical, chemical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters and wetlands. As such, he said he’s not opposed to development on the site, but wants to ensure that the wetlands are protected.

“I’m representing the Clean Water Act,” Curtis added. “I try to step back and look at the whole issue, and the issue is wetlands and what they do in the county.”

The Meadow Creek wetlands offer an example of how incremental losses can add up. The area was measured at 11.24 acres by the Corps in 1995. The construction of the Summit Stage transit center resulted in permitted impacts to 0.22 acres of wetlands, Curtis said.

“Since then, we’ve lost an additional 3.2 acres,” he said, citing figures based on a 2004 delineation done for a previous development proposal in the area.

Town officials said they are aware of the biological significance of the Meadow Creek wetlands.

“We’ve passed planning regulations that require 25-foot setbacks from any wetlands,” said Mayor Bernie Zurbriggen. The preliminary plans for the Home Depot development include a 35-foot buffer from the wetlands, he added.

Zurbriggen pointed to the existing development in the area and said the nearby wetlands haven’t suffered as a result.

“I don’t understand how somehow, this additional parking lot (for Home Depot) would result in degradation,” Zurbriggen said.

The 35-foot buffer proposed under the preliminary Home Depot proposal is not enough, Curtis said, explaining that the Corps recommends a 100-foot buffer, or greater, for industrial development.

Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.