Debate intensifies over Basalt breach
Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon said Tuesday that a river restoration project worked largely as planned despite widespread and ongoing perceptions that it failed during runoff this year.
Count Councilman Mark Kittle among the skeptics.
“Frankly, I’m embarrassed as a citizen and a council member,” Kittle said at Tuesday night’s meeting. “What was there prior would have worked better than what we have now.”
Water from the Roaring Fork River topped the boulders, stones and dirt placed on the rebuilt north bank at the former site of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park. It topped a recently created dirt path and swamped about one half of the roughly 5-acre property. The water flows into a man-made channel that carries it to designated wetlands, then Old Pond Park, then another wetlands before it reconnects with the river.
The water level remains high, so it is uncertain how much of the path and surrounding topsoil was swept away.
“It worked about the way we expected — flooded where we thought and didn’t flood in other areas,” Scanlon said prior to the council meeting.
The town owns about half of the property — the side closest to the river. The town tore down an old, ramshackle dike that protected the trailer park. The intent was to stop confining the channel and let the river spread into the park during high flows.
Scanlon gave the council a conceptual site plan the town government handed out in August 2012 that showed the work would allow the river to widen at the Pan and Fork site and spill into a floodway defined almost exactly how the river flowed this spring.
Scanlon noted the other half of the former Pan and Fork site, which is owned by Roaring Fork Community Development Corp., remained dry as did the property where Rocky Mountain Institute is building its new Innovation Center and vacant land where Roaring Fork Conservancy hopes to build a river center.
The property that remained dry was raised with rock and fill to get it out of the floodplain.
As part of the river restoration project, the town installed four rock jetties that jut into the water to slow the velocity so the floodwaters don’t scour the rock embankment, according to Scanlon. A secondary benefit is to create habitat for trout and other fish.
“The jetties did about what we thought,” Scanlon said. “The accumulation of branches and debris was and still is a concern, but it’s just something that we’ll need to maintain.”
It still needs to be determined if the jetties must be reconfigured, Scanlon said.
Some observers have questioned if the design failed because of the presence of a fire hydrant in the middle of the flooded town park. Scanlon acknowledged that a fire hydrant “looks funny in the middle of the river.” However, the hydrant is leftover from the trailer park.
He produced photos that showed the hydrant last winter and about one year ago, when trailers were still on site. There were about three trailers between the hydrant and Roaring Fork River.
“It’s a hydrant we don’t need and will be taking out,” Scanlon told the council.
The loss of topsoil and portions of the path is “regrettable,” Scanlon said, but it is easily replaced. The preliminary estimate is it will cost about $25,000 to replace. The question is whether the contractor or the town government will be responsible for the cost, he said.
Kittle said he wouldn’t approve any additional funding for work on the park until there is a full engineering report on how the town’s project performed during high water. Town Engineer Larry Thompson is working on the report.
“We’ll wait and see,” Kittle said.
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Ron LeMaster was a ski instructor and race coach for more than 30 years, working with the U.S. Ski Team and ski schools at Aspen and Vail. His contributions to the technical art of skiing are immeasurable.