To dump or not to dump?
Aspen, CO Colorado
MARBLE, Colo. ” Mounds of dirt and rocks have been piling up recently at a once-scenic pullout along Highway 133 at the base of McClure Pass near Marble, creating a controversy about the use of the pullout as a dump site.
The Colorado Department of Transportation and the U.S. Forest Service are in the early stages of figuring out what to do with the material, which washes down off road cuts made for local highways decades ago.
“Right now, it looks really trashy,” said Aspen/Sopris District Ranger Irene Davidson. The site in question is on national forest land.
For the past decade and a half, the mixture of dirt and rocks both large and small has largely been dumped onto a designated site along Highway 133, just downstream along the Crystal River from the turnoff to Marble on Gunnison County Road 3.
Local environmental activists are worried that, if the site continues to be used as it has been in the past, it will harm the highway’s popularity as a designated Scenic Byway and could have negative impacts on the water quality in the Crystal River and adjacent wetlands.
“CDOT is not just going up there and trying to cause damage,” Davidson said. “They have a lot of material to deal with, and they’re trying to figure out what to do with it. And, frankly, nobody wants it.”
John Armstrong, a member of the Crystal River Environmental Protection Association, agreed that CVEPA does not consider CDOT the enemy.
“They’re the ones that keep that road open for us, and they do a great job,” he remarked. “And, they’re in quick a pickle.”
But, he continued, “I’m not sure that filling up the valley with the mountain is the best way” to deal with the interminable flow of debris that washes down from the road cuts.
Davidson, who has been on the job for a month, said on Tuesday that CDOT has had a permit to use the dump site.
But, she added, the state highway crews have reached the limit of their permit area, and are now putting only dirt and small rocks at that permit site.
Large rocks, she said, are going to another site farther up the Crystal toward Marble. Forest Service crews end up using some of the larger rocks for riprap along riverbanks, or for blocking vehicular access to certain sensitive areas, she said.
Dwayne Gaymon, senior foreman for the CDOT crews that maintain the highway, said an application has been submitted to expand the permit area near the Marble turnoff and allow CDOT to continue to dump the material there, although Davidson had not seen the application as of Oct. 30.
“We want to be friendly to the environment,” Gaymon said. “We want it to look right for everybody.” But, he added, “We’re talking about tons of material. All that material has to go somewhere.”
As part of the permit application, he said, the agency has come up with plans to actually shrink the square footage of the pulloff area for use by cars, and to build contours and sediment catch-basins between the site and the Crystal River to prevent contamination of the river.
“We are not looking to expand it as a kind of parking area,” he said, adding, “We’re not just trying to ram something by real fast” but expect there to be a public comment period concerning the proposal.
“We have this problem all over our district,” Davidson said, mentioning such popular areas as Coal Basin and Avalanche Creek, where homes mix with outdoor recreational activities. “The soil moves a lot, and we all want roads going to our houses or to our favorite recreation spots.”
She said the Forest Service expects to review the permit application over the winter and come up with a disposal plan by next summer.
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