Fraser development investigated for possible wetlands violation | SkyHiNews.com
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Fraser development investigated for possible wetlands violation

by Stephanie Miller
Sky-Hi Daily News

After receiving a tip from a Grand County resident, an official from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers showed up in Fraser on Monday to check if Cornerstone Holdings was digging on wetlands.

The property in question is located next to the Fraser Tubing Hill, where Cornerstone plans to develop another tubing hill in the near future. The developer has been doing some digging at the bottom of the hill, which sparked concern from a member of the community and prompted a phone call to the Corps of Engineers.

Nick Mezei, environmental engineer with the Frisco office for the Corps of Engineers, analyzed a portion of the property and will do some testing over the next couple of weeks to determine if jurisdictional wetlands were affected.

A jurisdictional wetland, under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, requires a permit in order to place fill material into a naturally occurring wetland. If fill material, such as soil or sand, is placed into a wetland, it prevents the wetland from functioning properly.

According to the Corps of Engineers Web site, a wetland is defined as an area that has growth of wetland vegetation, where the soil is saturated during a portion of the growing season or the surface is flooded during some part of most years.

Some wetlands, however, are not controlled under the Clean Water Act, and therefore are not considered jurisdictional. Mezei said the fill material on the Cornerstone property is in wetland areas, but he did not know whether they are jurisdictional.

He understands past irrigation of the pasture has contributed to wetlands in that area, but if there’s a natural component in addition to the irrigation, then the wetlands fall under the auspices of the Clean Water Act, he said.

Based on what he’s seen, he said he suspects a portion of the wetlands are jurisdictional.

“I still need to pull out some old maps to determine how much wetland was filled, and then we need to determine whether those wetlands are jurisdictional,” Mezei said. “It appears, from my preliminary investigation, at least some of the wetland probably is. But we need to confirm that (from additional research).”

If Mezei determines there is a problem with the fill material, the Corps of Engineers will follow normal procedures, he said, depending on the type of violation. If the act was done knowingly, it would be pursued through the Environmental Protection Agency.

If it’s a minor account that was not done knowingly, the Corps of Engineers would try to resolve the issue through restoration of the area that was filled, or have the violator provide compensatory mitigation by creating or enhancing wetlands in a nearby area.

Clark Lipscomb, vice president for real estate at Cornerstone Holdings, said he has worked closely with Mezei in the past on 404 permits for Grand Park and is “very familiar” with the permit process . He has several wetland consultants working for him, he added, and he believes the wetlands are not jurisdictional.

“In this incidence, we believe we’re out of their jurisdiction,” Lipscomb said.

Lipscomb added that the ranch the property is located on has been irrigated since 1884. Lipscomb’s consultants are working with the Corps of Engineers to determine if there are jurisdictional wetlands, he said, but everything they have done has been “by the book.”

Mezei said he hopes to find out whether the wetlands are jurisdictional over the next two weeks. He added that he appreciates phone calls from the public in these type of situations.

“If they see something that looks suspicious as far as possible fill, wetlands … oftentimes it turns out to be OK, or may not be jurisdictional, but we appreciate being informed so we can investigate and see if there’s a problem.”

To avoid problems, Mezei said he encourages developers to obtain the services of a wetland consultant to review property that has wetland vegetation or water-saturated soils in the springtime. A consultant can determine whether a permitting process needs to take place.

If the property does have a stream, pond or wetland, he encouraged property owners to avoid impacting the land altogether if possible.

As for the tubing hill, Lipscomb plans to develop a multi-purpose area at the bottom of the hill to serve as a parking area in the winter, and ranch operations headquarters in the summer for hay production and cattle management. More digging will take place in that area, he added, as the new tubing hill gets under way.

The hill, which will have a magic carpet and an operations building, will likely be up and running next winter.

For more information about permits and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, visit http://www.spk.usace.army.mil/regulatory.

” To reach Stephanie Miller, call (970) 887-3334, ext. 19601 or e-mail smiller@grandcountynews.com.


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