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Sewage bubbles up near ritzy golf club

John Colson

City officials scrambled this week to clean up an unknown amount of raw sewage that bubbled to the surface west of Aspen, near the Maroon Creek Club underpass along Highway 82.

The sewage surfaced at several points, according to one official, including a pond at the Maroon Creek Club golf course. Golf course officials could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

No threat to the public’s health was reported due to the spill.

According to Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District officials, a main sewer line parallel to the highway was plugged, apparently by road building debris, at least several weeks ago and perhaps for months.

The large rocks and other debris caused a backup of the sewage in the line, and it has been welling to the surface at several points near the underpass. Local citizens have long reported smelling sewage in that area, but the source of the odor was not found until this week.

One of the points where sewage appeared, according to ACSD Superintendent Tom Bracewell, was at a manhole in a low-lying area adjacent to Tiehack Road as it heads southward from the highway.

Another spot, Bracewell said, was at the base of a berm separating Tiehack Road from a nearby senior housing complex.

And, Bracewell reported, some of the overflowing sewage was being carried “out of the drainage area into a culvert running beneath Highway 82 and into one of the ponds on the golf course.”

Aspen Environmental Health Officer Lee Cassin said there was no danger to public health from the sewage, because of the isolated locations where it was surfacing.

She said the two spots near the Tiehack Road are remote and not the kind of places people would normally be walking. And the pond, she said, is covered by ice and snow.

The sewage spill first came to light on Jan. 23, Bracewell said, in the form of a complaint to the city by an unnamed citizen.

Bracewell said ACSD personnel found the problem at 2 p.m. that day and started working on it by 2:30 p.m. They had a “temporary flow” restored to the pipeline by 7 p.m.

He said crews returned to the site the next day to finish the job of clearing out the debris, and cleaning up the sewage that had settled and frozen on the ground.

Cassin said the city will continue to monitor the area as spring arrives and the ground begins to thaw. But, she said, it is expected that the normal self-cleaning process of the wetlands areas where the sewage surfaced might take care of the remaining material.

As for the pond, she said, there is no way of knowing how much sewage flowed into it, and again officials are hoping the pond’s natural cleaning processes will take care of the problem.

Both ACSD and the Colorado Department of Transportation are investigating the cause of the blockage in the pipeline.

According to a statement from ACSD, “evidence points toward excavation work on the Highway 82 four-lane project. … The lid and frame of the manhole that was filled with debris were carefully replaced after the manhole was filled, and ACSD was never notified.”

It is not known whether ACSD will be able to defray some or all of the costs of repairing the line and cleaning up the spill, or precisely what those costs will be.

Bracewell said the pond could potentially have absorbed hundreds of thousands of gallons of sewage, and may have to be dredged out at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But, he said, “I’ve got not way of knowing right now.”


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