The Upper Blue Planning Commission approved a five-year conditional use permit Thursday evening to allow rock-milling activities as part of the Swan River Restoration Project. With piles of loose rock burying the stream underneath, the goal is to reconnect the North, Middle and South forks of the Swan River and restore a riparian habitat conducive to plant and animal life.
“In general terms, the dredge boats went through and left piles of rock which have little riparian life to them. This project will bring the river back to the surface so it has an aquatic habitat for fish and other species,” Breckenridge Open Space and Trails planner Scott Reid said. “The rock crushing and sorting operation will allow us to reach the grades we need, and the elevations we need to allow the river corridor to function as a river.”
Currently, Summit County Open Space and Trails estimates 85 to 90 percent of the project area is barren cobble.
The joint project is spearheaded by the county, with Breckenridge providing significant contributions as the river crosses into the town’s land as well. Other supporters include the U.S. Forest Service, Friends of the Dillon Ranger District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who granted the county just under $1 million for the project last March.
The next phase of the project is set to start in May, with excavation and crushing continuing through September.
A ROCKY START
While the restoration of the river is unanimously supported, a few Breckenridge residents shared concerns over the breadth of the milling work, with plans to process 100,000 cubic yards of rock, the equivalent of about 30.5 Olympic swimming pools.
Members of the Summit Estates Homeowners Association, a neighborhood located near Tiger Road, raised concerns about the amount of gravel that would be hauled and its use.
“Tiger Road is an important and heavily utilized recreational corridor for both mountain and road biking,” a letter submitted to the Open Space and Trails Department read. “The section of Tiger Road beyond the town limits is already in disrepair, and without substantial improvements including dedicated bike lanes, any increase in traffic, especially heavy trucks, would be unwise and unsafe.”
“Our goal is not to interrupt the restoration project. All of us think that’s a good thing,” Summit Estates HOA member Peter Podore added. “At the very least, we would like to have some focus on safety issues, the volume of truck traffic, some limitations on what that truck traffic might be, and some assurance that there would be funds set aside to repair or repave the road once this project is completed.”
The request submitted to the Upper Blue Planning Commission estimated Tiger Road would see about 50 truckloads of gravel per day, and no more than 100 per day. Summit County open space and trails director Brian Lorch said whether or not the gravel was milled, the rocks would need to be hauled to clear space for the river.
“There’s way too much material up there to restore the stream. It has to go somewhere,” Lorch said.
The crusher would function not only to allow the county to sell gravel to help fund the project, but would also be used to grind the rocks down to a fine material resembling a natural stream channel.
“Gravel has such high permeability that you have to put something on the bottom. If we don’t do that, we could have stream that flows under the gravel,” Lorch explained. “If we can crush this material and use it on site, we don’t have to remove as much and don’t need to bring in as much soil.”
Another concern raised by the HOA was the potential sale of the milled gravel to help fund the project. With CDOT’s Highway 9 Iron Springs realignment planned for this summer, requiring about 50,000 cubic yards of gravel, there was some discussion of incorporating the excess material into that project.
“…this was in reality a request by Summit County to itself to allow processing and sale of gravel on a scale that would have a significant impact on those residents of Summit County who use Tiger Road, as well as putting the County in direct competition with local businesses who sell gravel,” Podore wrote in a submitted letter.
However, Lorch added the sale of gravel to fund the restoration was not a new process and was permitted under the county’s mining permit. The county and the town of Breckenridge jointly purchased the 136-acre Williams Placer mining claim for open space purposes, including the restoration of the Swan River. A mining permit owned by the county permits the removal and processing of dredge gravels.
“Our first project was entirely paid for by selling the gravel, and using the money to match state and federal funds. That is an option,” Lorch said.
He added that selling the leftover gravel to CDOT would be a more efficient use of the material than driving it over the passes to another project, or creating a new gravel pit.
“We’re not opening a gravel pit that anyone can go to with pickup trucks,” Lorch said. “In the last 40 years, most everything that has been built, some portion of it is dredge gravel. There is nothing new here in terms of people moving dredge gravel out of the Swan or other drainages.”
Specific plans for the sale and transportation of the gravel are not yet set in stone, but working hours for construction and crushing operations this summer will be approximately 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., decreasing with the length of available daylight. All excavation and crushing are anticipated to end by Sept. 30.