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CVEPA Views: Learning, challenging, collaborating

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

On April 14, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA) board meeting enjoyed a delightful levity which is uncommon these days. Solidarity is not synonymous with unanimity, so it is refreshing when we all agree on something. The pact to agree to disagree, respectfully, is a basic tenet of any healthy board.

Numerous issues in the past decade have found environmental organizations on different sides of the same issue. Most notably are debates over public land uses. So often the disparities are not the goal but the method through which we hope to succeed. The unique twist is that collective ethos may be the same — environmental defense — but the details of the pathway can differ significantly.

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CVEPA board members are unified in their support of the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative (GPLI) proposal to expand The Raggeds Wilderness Area to include Treasure Mountain. Treasure Mountain is the magnificent massif that dominates the Marble skyline as it stretches east into Gunnison County. The expansive dome rolls for miles above 13,000 feet and is one of the most significant snow reservoirs in the Crystal Valley watershed. Expansion would connect Treasure Mountain with the existing wilderness area. 

GPLI presented their proposal at the Marble Town Council meeting earlier this month, where the Marble trustees unanimously endorsed it. The key to GPLI’s success over the past decade has been inclusivity. They have galvanized over 10 major community groups with interests varying from water, grazing, hunting and fishing, conservation and both motorized and non-motorized recreation. Most of GPLI’s work is in the Gunnison watershed. Their proposal to include Huntsman Ridge, above McClure Pass, in a Special Management Area is also important to CVEPA (learn more at gunnisonpubliclands.org).

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Two well-attended open house meetings in Carbondale and Redstone were recently hosted by the Coal Basin Methane Project. Lively and thoughtful question and answer sessions followed the presentation by Chris Caskey. Caskey is applying for entry into Coal Basin to conduct methane research.

CVEPA supports the request of the Coal Basin Methane Project to enter the basin to gather more information on the location and volume of escaping methane gas. The board arrived at this consensus after extensive discussion based on research, education, public meetings and history. CVEPA was at the heart of the reclamation of Coal Basin in the 1990s, and feels particularly protective of the healing watershed. With board support come caveats we strongly stand by. Reentry into the basin must be done with the lightest possible footprint. Any roadwork must be limited to the minimal disturbance needed for access. The prevalent Mancos Shale in the basin has no binding quality and is extremely erosive. All efforts to protect water quality and control erosion must be implemented from the beginning. Finally, reclamation must be ongoing and a large bond to support this is mandatory. 

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Environmentalists are inquisitive and enthusiastic about the prospect of capturing this harmful greenhouse gas. There is now strong financial support to gather more data. It is essential to have an unbiased second or third party to corroborate the findings of the primary proponent of the project. With methane on the forefront of global warming mitigation, it is important that regulations be developed to expedite projects to capture and destroy or harness the gas in an efficient and environmentally responsible manner. We encourage the public to seek out more information on this complex proposal.

After years in the waiting, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) released their retroactive permit for the Colorado Stone Quarry (CSQ), the marble quarry. The quarry “used explosive charges on the western hillside to fill the former channel with 97,000 cubic yards of fill,” according to the USACE permit. The quarry did not have a permit for destroying Yule Creek nor did they receive a fine from anyone for the action. CSQ is on the hook for the “ecological enhancement” of the new block-lined channel they diverted the creek into.

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“To compensate for the loss of aquatic resource,” CSQ is required to conduct their compensatory mitigation (in lay terms, their “penance”) in Muds Gulch, one half mile downstream from the quarry. Muds Gulch is a perennial avalanche and flash flood drainage consisting of the prevalent Mancos Shale. Any improvements are better than nothing, but CVEPA finds Muds Gulch a low priority.

The permit is pitifully inadequate and toothless compensation for such a reckless and egregious offense as destroying over a quarter mile of Yule Creek. In order to maintain the high water quality of Yule Creek, our federal agents at the Army Corps of Engineers have required CSQ to monitor the water quality flowing through the quarry. CVEPA contests charging the fox with guarding the henhouse! If CVEPA had not reported the illegal relocation of Yule Creek in 2019, would our state and federal agencies even know about this travesty?

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All discouragement aside, CVEPA hopes to work with CSQ to improve and protect the Yule Creek Valley in the future. For information about the mission and work of the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association, visit cvepa.org

Tags: #Crystal Valley #Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association #CVEPA #CVEPA Views #John Armstrong
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