For decades, drainage from the toxic Jumbo Mine leaked dissolved cadmium, copper, lead and zinc into Summit County waterways. But thanks to a federal cleanup operation completed in October, one major contributor of metal contamination in the Snake River watershed is contained.
Jumbo Mine sits a couple hundred yards above a portion of Peru Creek that is so metal-contaminated it's considered a "dead zone" because it's unable to sustain life. Peru Creek flows into the Snake River 2 miles downstream, which in turn travels 10 miles before reaching the Dillon Reservoir, the main source of drinking water for Denver and its 1.4 million residents. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notice for the Jumbo Mine, the site was listed as a "Priority One" project for remediation. The escalation in priority came after lobbying from Snake River Task Force and other local stakeholders. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment listed Jumbo as a "significant" contributor of water degradation in the area.
Cleaning these contaminated sites is a major challenge for Summit County, as an entire bureaucratic process needs to take place before cleanup can even begin. Brian Lorch, director of Summit's Open Space & Trails department, said the county has been trying to buy up many of these sites for clean-up purposes, but faces an uphill battle.
"There are thousands of these tiny claims and abandoned mine areas across the mountains," Lorch says, "and each one poses unique challenges and issues that we have to deal with."
“That acidic drainage leached these metals and other solid material and transported them down into Peru Creek.”Duane NewellEPA coordinator overseeing Jumbo Mine cleanup
The county, working with state and federal authorities, has identified sites in urgent need of decontamination and has used several land purchase strategies to safeguard the areas, as well as create more protected open space. Jumbo is an example of a private-public partnership in which both the government and private landowner worked together to repair the area.
On Wednesday afternoon, Lorch provided a tour of the site, pointing to what seemed to be huge snowy mounds rising above the path. These, he says, are tailings, or huge waste piles of rocks that were dug out and left outside the mine entrance when it was active from 1915 to 1918. Those piles are the primary problem at Jumbo and many other mines like it, dotting the mountainsides and valleys and poisoning the water.
Duane Newell, the EPA coordinator overseeing the Jumbo cleanup, said the problem lies with acidic water draining out of Jumbo since the mine opening collapsed in the '60s. He explains that acidic water has been flowing out at rates of 30 to 100 gallons per minute, and some of that winds up flowing through the tailings.
"That acidic water was running across the waste rock pile, which is approximately 25,000 cubic yards," Newell explains. "That acidic drainage leached these metals and other solid material and transported them down into Peru Creek."
Newell says the problem was resolved by diverting water flow around the contaminated waste piles, using a durable "vapor" barrier liner to keep the water off the tailings, and then using limestone on top of that to neutralize the water acidity.
For now, the most significant issue with Jumbo is resolved, but other concerns, such as capping the tailings and acidic water flowing out of the mine, also need to be addressed.
Newell said that the funding is not there to address that quite yet, but the site is relatively stable for the moment.
Without intervention, the Jumbo site would have continued to contaminate the watershed. Newell notes that while Jumbo was a significant polluter, it is just one of many sources of contamination for Snake River. In 2013, the EPA began major clean-up operations a few miles away at the Pennsylvania Mine, considered one of the most polluted mines in Colorado and the single largest polluter of Peru Creek.
As mining's legacy continues to have consequences for the Snake River watershed and the county as a whole, Newell said the collaborative efforts of local stakeholders and government agencies such as the EPA are slowly but surely chipping away at the problem, and hopefully one day Peru Creek will be clean enough to support aquatic life again.
"It has been getting better over the years, definitely," he said.
A young couple hopes to tear down one of Silverthorne's most infamous eyesores and replace it with a roughly $6.5 million hostel that, they say, will greatly bolster the accommodations available to travelers in Summit County.
The duo, Lynne Parrish and Rob Baer, have certainly been inspired by their international travels, but the dorm room-style accommodations are only one piece of The Pad, a proposed boutique hotel that will offer private rooms, lodging for extended stays and even micro rooms, in addition to hostel-style bed rentals.
"The Pad is needed in Silverthorne as a refuge for adventure enthusiasts," Parrish said Tuesday via email. "Prices can be so high for lodging, resulting in many people making day trips instead of staying over."
Parrish continued by saying The Pad, once built, will provide a comfortable place to stay at an affordable rate, one where people "can relax by the fireplace or hot tubs with friends, maybe with a cocktail or glass of wine — and be walking distance to anything they'd need during their stay."
Most basically, The Pad is being designed as a kind of "home base" for people wanting pursue some of the many recreational activities in the surrounding area. More than that, Parrish and Baer are looking to create the kind of lodging accommodations they'd want for themselves.
"We think we'll be successful because we are creating a place designed by the traveler, for the traveler," Parrish said.
Both Parrish and Baer come from backgrounds in real estate development, and Parrish has the additional experience of working in the lodging industry, including managing a hostel in order to make sure this was the path she wanted to pursue.
"I look forward to building this from the ground up to have practices in place to make The Pad successful," Parrish said of a project that's more than three years in the making.
The Pad is on tomorrow's agenda for the Silverthorne Town Council, as Parrish and Baer hope to get their preliminary site plan approved.
Based on earlier discussions, town staff's findings and the planning commission's unanimous recommendation, the duo seems likely to get the thumbs up they're seeking.
Their plan describes a 35-foot, three-story hostel with 36 rooms with an apartment for an on-site manager, spacious patios, lounges, event space, a bar, small restaurant, community kitchen, bathrooms and gear storage.
The Pad would go up on about two acres at 491 Rainbow Drive, where the now-vacant Robinson Dairy building currently stands, on the east side of the Blue River, in the downtown core district.
Blueprints call for the hostel to be built using 16 prefabricated shipping containers, inconspicuously tied into a conventional steel and metal-framed construction. The repurposing of materials is one aspect of the Silverthorne project that greatly appeals to the duo.
"The idea to build with shipping containers came from a project we were part of in Costa Rica," Parrish said, explaining that they used 48 shipping containers for hotel rooms "to ensure each room had the best view over the ocean."
Drivers would come into the hotel off of Rainbow Drive, but foot traffic could take the existing sidewalk along Rainbow Drive and Center Circle or the 8-foot wide Blue River Trail running along the riverbank.
The developers say they've been self-funding the project to this point, and they "have a great group of investors that will help (them) get this project built and up and running."
Town staff have identified a number of foreseeable town-prescribed benefits associated with the project, not the least of which is its potential to help sustain "a critical mass of people continually present" within walking distance of nearby restaurants, shops and entertainment venues.
"In the Town Core District, the Comprehensive Plan also recommends the creation of gathering spaces, pedestrian connectivity, and the celebration of the Blue River, all of which have been incorporated into the proposed project," reads one excerpt of town planners' findings regarding the proposed hostel.
The developers are also in negotiations with the Lake Dillon Theatre Company about regularly putting up performers with the troop at The Pad.
Brookside Builders built the now-vacant building, which would be demolished to make way for hostel, in 1982. Robinson Dairy remodeled the building in 1986 and turned it into a warehouse and distribution facility for its dairy products.
The planning commission approved the preliminary site plan on Dec. 5, provided developers meet 15 specific conditions, such as tweaking the entrance and the roof for example, before obtaining final approval.
Most perimeters of the proposed hotel — i.e. lot coverage, snow storage, setbacks and landscaping — fall well within the town's guidelines for the downtown core. Wetlands and waterways should not be affected, according to town planners. Parrish said they'll be working with the design team and town staff to meet the conditions presented and remedy any problems.
Parris said the idea for a hostel came to her when she was living in South America. Originally, she said, she thought that would be the best place to open one, but she soon realized "the hostel scene was lacking and undeveloped in the U.S." That led her to shift her focus stateside.
Parrish said Silverthorne, with its proximity to Denver, breath-taking views, access to Interstate 70 and natural attractions, was an easy choice.
"After researching the best spot for one in the U.S., I chose Colorado in 2014 and I'm happy I did because not only did I find the perfect site in Silverthorne," Parrish said, "I also found the perfect guy — and he's now my partner in The Pad — truly making this a better project."
If everything goes according to plan, demo work could begin as early as next spring.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Summit County Board of Commissioners adopted the 2018 budget, which projects an uptick in both expenditures and revenue as the county continues to make major investments in workforce housing, capital projects and personnel, while seeing a significant increase in property tax revenue.
Summit's overall budget is projected to grow to a hair under $89 million in 2018, up from just under $88 million in 2017. Property tax receipts are expected to rise by 7.1 percent, and make up the largest single source of revenue for the county at 32 percent. Projections show sales tax will increase 2 percent and fee revenue will remain relatively flat, with a 1 percent increase over 2017. The county assessor evaluates the projected revenue increases over a two-year period, so these figures will be used to build the 2019 budget as well.
Property tax revenue is seeing a significant increase this year from 2016, which only saw a 1.4 percent increase from 2015. County Manager Scott Vargo attributes the jump to increased property values across Colorado and especially in the mountains and the Front Range.
When it comes to expenditures, notable increases are seen to the general fund, which is projected to increase from $27.3 million to $29.9 million, and the enterprise fund which will increase from $11 million to $13.7 million.
The general-fund increase is attributed to several new staff positions being added to the sheriff's department and the SCRAP landfill, as well as transfer to capital expenditures, nonprofit support, and salary and health care cost increases.
The bulk of the enterprise fund increase is going toward replacing two 4WD ambulances, equipment and system upgrades, as well as construction at the Lake Dillon Fire Rescue headquarters.
Special revenue expenditure will actually decrease from $40.1 million to $38.2 million, with much of it going toward affordable housing developments such as Lake Hill, as well as $2.9 million going toward road and bridge capital projects.
Vargo is relatively happy with how the budget process turned out, given certain practical and statutory challenges that were presented, such as a major internal software overhaul overseen by finance director Marty Ferris. However, a constant challenge to making the budget comes in the form of constitutional requirements, specifically the Gallagher Amendment and TABOR.
The Gallagher Amendment hamstrings the ability of country government to collect property revenue by enforcing a cap on how much residential assessed values make up the state's overall assessed value. The state caps the assessed value of residential property at 45 percent, with commercial and vacant land taking up the other 55 percent.
In practice, that means if the housing sector sees a boom (as the Front Range is seeing at the moment) then home values go up and homeowners wind up paying more than that 45 percent share of the assessment, unbalancing the ratio and mandating a tax cut for residential property.
"The tax assessment used to be 7.96 percent (of market value) for residential and 29 percent commercial," Vargo explained. "Commercial stays the same at 29 percent, but residential is dropping to 7.2 percent. So that 0.76 percent is just lost."
That 0.76 percent comes out to about $2 million in additional tax revenue that the county loses forever unless there's a tax hike to restore it. But that leads to a problem on the other side of the tax equation: TABOR.
The Taxpayer Bill of Rights makes it difficult to recoup that loss, as any attempt to get back to the previous tax assessment must be approved by voters, or through a capped increase that does not keep up with the dramatic decreases. So even though that projected 7.1 increase in property tax revenue seems significant, it is still causing gaps in funding that can't be filled.
Despite these challenges, Vargo says Summit actually came out even.
"Even though we saw $2 million less in revenue than we would have realized, we didn't see a drop in revenue," he said.
Vargo attributes this relative success by the county's strategy of keeping revenue estimates conservative, and as it turns out the increase in residential values made up that shortfall. Additionally, moderate expenditure estimates might mean the county spends less on budgeted projects in 2018 than anticipated.
As the county implements the proposed budget, Vargo, Ferris and the rest of the staff will turn their attention to the 2019 budget and all the challenges it brings.
County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier credited Summit residents for voting in favor of initiatives allowing expansion of several key county programs.
"Voters' support for programs like open space protection, workforce housing and emergency services has been essential to our ability to address community needs and priorities," she said.
The town of Frisco is inviting residents to share their ideas and participate in a community conversation on Tuesday evening, Dec. 12 about the coming overhaul of Frisco Adventure Park's skate park.
After interviewing five different companies, the town selected Evergreen Skateparks of Portland, Oregon, for the design and rebuild of the park. Company representatives will hosting the community conversation, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Frisco Adventure Park Day Lodge located at 621 Recreation Way.
A free beer and appetizers will be provided for attendees.
Got old skis and want to help Breckenridge make history — again? There's a donation for that.
In preparation of next month's attempt to break the "unofficial" world record for the longest ski shot, Breckenridge Distillery is now taking donations of old skis, and they're going to need a lot of them.
Skis can be dropped off at the distillery, 1925 Airport Road in Breckenridge, to be included in what's become an ongoing battle between Breckenridge and Park City, Utah.
According to Austyn Dineen of the Breckenridge Tourism Office, Park City took over the ski shot record in October, and Breckenridge will need 1,266 participants when the town tries to reclaim the title at its annual Ullr Fest celebration, Jan. 10-13, in Breckenridge. Dineen said that last year, Breckenridge had 1,234 participants and the ski shot stretched 1,250 feet down Main Street.
It's an unofficial record because the Guinness Book of World Records, fearing possible lawsuits, banned all records related to alcohol in 1991, according to news reports.
Summit Daily NewsQuandary Peak wasn't named for the parking headaches at its trailhead, but during the high season that's an apt description for many who arrive to find the small parking lot swollen with cars.
Summit County's only 14er is now the fifth most popular in the state, according to survey data from the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, and the number of people trekking up its ridge each summer is unlikely to taper off any time soon.
The parking problem is more than just an annoyance to hikers and nearby residents; it's a safety hazard when the lot fills up and as many as 100 cars park along the side of Highway 9 and its hairpin turns near Hoosier Pass. That's illegal, but the Summit County Sheriff's Office simply doesn't have the manpower to ticket so many cars day in and day out.
It's a vexing if not entirely unique problem that land managers across the state face when trying to balance access to public spaces with the crushes of visitors and the toll they take on infrastructure — most notably in places like Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs.
To search for possible answers, the U.S. Forest Service recently invited a group of graduate students at the University of Colorado Boulder's Masters of Environment program to come up with some ideas to ease Quandary's parking problem.
"The Forest Service can't solve this problem alone, so we need all of the help we can get with ideas and possible new approaches — and funding," said Bill Jackson, district ranger for the White River National Forest's Dillon Ranger District, during the students' presentation in Frisco Friday morning.
To come up with their suggestions, the students conducted hours of interviews with local stakeholders, from the patchwork of agencies that manage Quandary and the surrounding area to local residents and users.
"Interest levels were extremely high with this project," said student Rachel Meier during the presentation. "Very few people we talked to or who responded to our surveys were apathetic about the situation at Quandary."
Drawing on those interviews and case studies of how other high-use areas like Hanging Lake manage crowds, the students determined that one of the most promising options would be to run shuttles from Breckenridge to Quandary and use no-fee permits to help control crowds and educate hikers about the delicate high-alpine ecosystem.
"We feel that Summit County is well positioned for a shuttle system because of the existing infrastructure it has with the Summit Stage bus service," one of the students explained. "We saw this not only as a way to remove cars, but also as an intervention to be able to talk to hikers before they go about preparedness and trail stewardship."
Unlike Quandary, Breckenridge has ample parking during the summer when ski area lots sit mostly empty. The town's amenities would also give hikers a chance to pick up items they might have forgotten at home or grab a beer and a burger after the long hike.
The students envisioned a shuttle system as the final component of a three-phase process for managing the crowded trailhead.
The first would entail a redesign of the parking area, although that approach was only expected to reap limited benefits. The parking lot is county-owned, but the surrounding area is Forest Service land, and encroaching there would trigger burdensome environmental reviews mandated by federal law.
"It was clear from our interviews that expanding the parking lot alone will not solve this problem," said Whitney Dodd, one of the students.
The second phase would entail increasing the signage in the area, reminding people that parking on the side of the road is illegal. That could be dovetailed with other notices educating hikers about the extremely delicate high-alpine ecosystem and reminding them to stay on the trail at all times.
That relates to another issue with easing parking problems at Quandary: If the three-phase plan were implemented, the added capacity would likely lead to a surge in users, and thus more wear and tear on the trail.
Randy Wheelock, a Creek County Commissioner who was in the audience Friday morning, pointed out that trailhead expansions at the popular Mount Bierstadt led to a spike in users. The original trail on that peak was cut at a width of 24 inches, but steady streams of hikers over the years have widened it to 50 feet in some places.
The students acknowledged that could be an issue, however given the limited, three-month scope of their project, they didn't have the time or resources to delve into that aspect of Quandary's future. What's clear, however, is that a plan to manage trail impacts will need to accompany any parking fix at the popular peak.
"We are looking at incredible population gains in this state, so we are probably going to meet a threshold where that (Quandary) trail is going to be very difficult to manage," one Forest Service official pointed out. "We can harden the trail to a point with our current funding level … but I'm not sure, if we have a bus drop off hundreds of people in addition to the cars already there, that we're going to be able maintain that trail."
A proposed seven-unit, downtown apartment complex recommended for approval at Tuesday's meeting of the Silverthorne Planning Commission has drawn some locals' attention, including some for and against the project.
The complex would go up at 300 Blue River Pkwy., private land that's near a town park and currently houses Uncle John's Farm Stand, the Higgles Ice Cream Food Truck, parking spaces and a picnic area, according to the developer's application.
The property is prime, open real estate along the scenic Blue River in the downtown core, and the town's bike path cuts through the parcel. To the north sits the Silverthorne Town Center, with the river on the east, a vacant lot to the south and the Old Dillon Inn across the street to the west, states the application.
The developer, Tom Ethington of Pinnacle Real Estate Advisors, said he's "excited" to be working on a project that could help fill out the downtown core, in which they can "deliver a good product within the town's vision."
The town has identified the area as part of its downtown core, and the goal is to allow the most density in the downtown core with progressively lower densities radiating outward.
The land on which the apartments would go and the surrounding area is a popular summertime gathering place in Silverthorne, with many nearby businesses, the walking path along the river and easy access to other town assets, like the performing arts or recreation centers.
Ethington said that, with any luck, they could start construction as early as May.
The proposed apartments, however, would effectively put out the current tenants, one of whom recently posted a link to the developer's proposal with an open-ended question asking people to weigh in.
In response, some welcomed the news of additional housing options in an already tight real estate market marred by rising prices and record-low inventory.
"Urban infill is a good thing," wrote one man on the popular Facebook forum One Man's Junk Summit County. "It prevents sprawl along with so many other issues we face. This plan utilizes existing highway entrances, places parking behind the structure, and gives the tenants walking access to local businesses in the area."
The design "looks modern and progressive," he added. "But most importantly, we need housing in this county!"
Others saw the need for additional housing too, but they weren't quite so keen on the design.
"Can't anyone design something that fits in better in a mountain town?" asked another commenter. "This looks like every new apartment/condo development being built in Denver right now."
At the same time, other people expressed concerns about the price of the downtown apartments and assumed the cost would be too high for many locals.
According to Ethington, they will be upscale apartments, but he could not provide price points so early in the project.
Also, many of the people who weighed in online wanted to know if the units would be short-term rentals or long term.
"Style is a bit much, but a couple more residences seems good to me," wrote another supporter. "Hopefully, they are built for local residents."
According to Ethington, those people will be happy to know the apartments will be rented out under long-term leases.
The requested height for the apartment complex also sparked ire for some residents, as plans call for the complex to extend up to the maximum allowable height for the downtown area — 45 feet on a pitched roof — and there are other concerns about how the apartments could affect access and views of the Blue River.
It should be noted that most of the town's requirements are easily met or exceeded by the project, according to the developer's application. However, some accommodations are being made under stipulations written into town code for reduced parking spaces due to the proposed apartments' proximity to nearby bus routes and snow removal, which is to be hauled off-site.
Per town law, the applicant held a public forum Tuesday to give property owners within 200 feet of the proposed apartments a chance to review the site plans and building design, in addition to the planning commission's hearing that same day.
The issue is expected come up again Dec. 13 at the next Silverthorne Town Council meeting, where Ethington said he hopes the project does well, "and we'll go from there."