Study: Fraser ‘wetlands’ created by ranching activity
Sky-Hi Daily News
In response to an allegation concerning possible jurisdictional wetlands on the Byers Peak Ranch Property, owner Clark Lipscomb wants to make something clear.
“We did do a wildlife study, we have had biologists work on this, and we feel we followed regulations.”
The piece of land that Lipscomb is referring to is located next to the Fraser Tubing Hill along the Fraser Valley Parkway (CR 721). In the fall of ’07, an access road and parking lot (unpaved) were constructed on the lower section of the property to create a possible tubing hill in the future, and to provide a place to store machinery and equipment for farming during spring and summer months.
But the construction prompted a call by a concerned member of the community to the U.S. Corps of Engineers; placing fill material on an area that could contain naturally occurring wetlands is against the Corps’ regulations, and requires a 404 permit.
The concerned citizen believed Lipscomb was placing fill on jurisdictional (naturally occurring) wetlands, based on a study completed in 2003 by a company called Cedar Creek Associates. The 2003 study was completed because of plans for the Fraser Valley Parkway.
Based on a different study, however, by Western Bionomics, a natural resource management company hired by Lipscomb, the 2003 study did not include the property in question, or take into account that it is heavily irrigated. Lipscomb did not obtain a 404 permit, he explained, because the wetland consultants he hired studied the site beforehand and concluded the wetlands are caused by irrigation, and therefore are not naturally occurring, he said.
The Western Bionomics study was sent to the Sky Hi Daily News last week.
“The Byers Peak Ranch is, and has been an actively run ranch since the later part of the 19th century. The property is used for hay production and livestock grazing,” the report states. “There are definitely areas on the property that meet the physical and biological criteria that define wetlands. However, it would take an enormous leap in logic to conclude that wetlands on this tract occur naturally, and are not created or influenced by irrigation.”
Lipscomb is not a specialist, he stressed, but he believes not all of the facts have been presented in allegations made about the property. The area has been tested, and both wildlife reports and wetland reports were conducted; the Western Bionomics study was sent to the Army Corps of Engineers office in Frisco early- to mid-December, and Lipscomb said he is confident that no jurisdictional wetlands were impacted by the new driveway and parking area.
Nick Mezei, environmental engineer with the Frisco office, is analyzing the property in question. Mezei said he suspects there are wetland patches on the Byers Peak Ranch Property due to the presence of wetland vegetation, but whether they are jurisdictional will most likely be known in the spring, when a true test of whether the soils are naturally saturated can be conducted.
Mezei is basing some of his analysis on the Cedar Creek study, but the Western Bionomics study states: “None of this development is within an area delineated by Cedar Creek as jurisdictional wetlands.”
A more thorough analysis will have to wait until springtime, but Lipscomb plans to keep developing his property until that time, once he receives approval from the town of Fraser and Grand County. The property is awaiting annexation into Fraser and requires a special use permit from the county for its winter activities, such as the tubing hill. The permit would grant permission to install a lift on property.
Last week Grand County Commissioners held off their vote for a special use permit in order to obtain confirmation that the Corps of Engineers is satisfied that the parking area is not on jurisdictional wetlands. County staff assured commissioners the Corps has found that only one-tenth to two-tenths of the property in question encroaches on jurisdictional wetlands, but a final determination cannot be forwarded until vegetation can be viewed in summer months.
Until then, the Corps has given its OK to allow use of the parking lot this winter, according to the county’s planning staff. Lipscomb told commissioners the new tubing hill is slated to open this winter, if the county’s approval for the special use is obtained. Commissioner Nancy Stuart, however, said she did not feel comfortable voting on the issue without a written sign-off from the Corps.
Other concerns from residents
A recent letter to Grand County Commissioners from a member of the Sierra Club asked why Lipscomb decided to build a driveway and parking area off of the Fraser Valley Parkway, instead of accessing the proposed new tubing hill by County Road 72, where the existing Fraser Tubing Hill is accessed. Lipscomb pointed out in an interview that CR 72 is steep and difficult to access during winter conditions, as opposed to the Fraser Valley Parkway.
“It’s better access “it’s a safe, flat road that easily accesses the area,” Lipscomb said. “It’s a logical planning solution to something that has traffic implementations.”
All in all, Lipscomb plans to work with the Corps, but he wants to point out that his projects, such as Grand Park, have been environmentally sensitive, and this project at Byers Peak Ranch is no different.
“Since this is an alleged violation, we will continue to work diligently with the Army Corps of Engineers to address the allegation,” Lipscomb added. “We’ll revisit it with Nick in the spring time, and if we did in fact (make an) error, we’re very sorry and we’ll correct it. But I don’t think we have that incident here.”
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