Scale of plan and lack of public involvement raises concerns at county commissioner level
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — A U.S. Forest Service plan to improve campground facilities and for a new marina on the east side of Green Mountain Reservoir has expanded well beyond its initial scope. The size of the project as now envisioned caught local officials by surprise.
Forest Service rangers discussed the plan with county commissioners at a work session in a meeting that was not included on the agenda. County officials said the agency made a “last-minute” request for the meeting to ask for permission to extend power lines across county open space land. The Forest Service also wants to start working with the Colorado Department of Transportation on plans to improve access to the Cow Creek camping areas from Highway 9.
The draft environmental assessment is viewable in a Scribd.com window at the end of this story.
The overall scope of the plan may not mesh with the county’s vision for the Lower Blue, where $6.4 million has been invested in open space to preserve the rural, agricultural character of the valley, said Summit County open space and trails director Brian Lorch.
“The scoping was very general. It didn’t raise any cause for concern,” Lorch said of the preliminary public input stage. But the draft study released last week envisions development on something like the scale of a state park recreation area and campground, he added.
“I knew this process was ongoing, but I didn’t have an understanding of the scale of what the preferred option is,” said commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier. “There would be impacts to open space and visuals, and I have concerns just in terms of scale … having lights, long-term boat storage, two host sites, large amounts of parking, pull-through RV sites … a lot of that doesn’t seem necessary. It’s out of scale with the type of camping we’ve seen down there,” she said.
“The only area where we have direct control over what happens is on our open space lands, we declined to give permission to cross open space lands with power lines,” she added.
Cutts said there are other options besides extending the overhead power lines, including under-grounding the lines, or even using solar power.
Stiegelmeier said the commissioners also had some concerns about the public process for the project, which was heavy on involvement with stakeholders in the immediate vicinity of the reservoir, but light on outreach to the wider community.
Stiegelmeier said the county recognizes the need to make the turn-off to the campgrounds more safe.
“I hope they’ll be able to use the stimulus money to make some effective improvements,” she said.
The Forest Service released the draft environmental analysis for the proposed campground improvements and other projects with little public notice last week. The comment period on the study runs only through April 15, according to White River National Forest spokesman Pat Thrasher. A public meeting is set for 5:30 p.m., April 8, at the community building in Heeney.
“If the full extent of this was to occur, is that really what we want down there?” said county manager Gary Martinez. “It’s broader in scope than what we anticipated. It would be another activity center across the reservoir from Heeney,” Martinez said.
Forest Service officials previously said the improvements included in the draft study represent a wish list of sorts. The agency doesn’t have the funds it needs to carry out all the envisioned elements, but it does have more than $1 million awarded from the federal stimulus package last year.
“Now we’re starting to hit deadlines for when we need to spend that money,” said Dillon District Ranger Jan Cutts, who has been working at the regional Forest Service office on an off the last few months. The scoping phase of the project was to develop a broad overview of the desired improvements; the draft analysis, released last week, pinpoints specifics, Cutts said.
Some of what now has the appearance of botched timing could have been avoided by involving the county at an earlier point in the process, for example with a Lower Blue Planning Commission hearing.
Cutts said there was no intention to leave the county out of the loop, and that the agency simply failed to take the planning commission step with this project. In the past, the Forest Service has often run its proposals by the local planning commissions just to provide information and to provide another venue for local comments — even if no county permits are required.
In a similar situation, the agency did not take that step in advance with plans for motorized use near the landfill, which subsequently generated backlash from nearby residents.
County officials also said they’re concerned because the Forest Service has shifted its focus away from improving boat launch facilities at the reservoir. When the federal funding boost was announced, the boat launch design was a central part of the project because of the need to prevent infestation of the reservoir by damaging non-native mussel species.
But last month, Forest Service lands specialist Paul Semmer said the agency didn’t have the money to move ahead with a boat launch. That part of the plan would be included in the study but put on a back burner, pending potential funding from private partners.
As envisioned in the current draft plan, the marina would become a commercial center, with a permanent building for retail and rental operations and permanent boat storage.
Filed under: public lands, recreation, Summit County Colorado, US Forest Service Tagged: | camping, Green Mountain Reservoir, recreation, Summit County Colorado, Summit County News, U.S. Forest Service