Winter Park " State allows Union Pacific to monitor discharge from Moffat Tunnel |

Winter Park " State allows Union Pacific to monitor discharge from Moffat Tunnel

Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
ALL | Sky-Hi Daily News

The Union Pacific Railroad is not off the hook for possible contaminants entering the Fraser River from the Moffat Tunnel.

On Tuesday, the railroad learned it has been given two years to submit strict, monthly water quality tests to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division, staving off spending a possible $1 million on a water treatment system.

Such a treatment system exists on the other side of the tunnel in Gilpin County.

A minimum average of about 30,000 gallons of water ” the amount that flows in a small creek such as Buck or Cub creeks in the Fraser Valley ” is discharged from the west portal of the Moffat Tunnel into the Fraser River on a daily basis.

Two years ago, Grand County blew the whistle on the railroad when it brought to light the issue of possible coal dust and metal particles entering the river from the tunnel.

At that point, the state issued the railroad a general permit to monitor rail discharge.

The National Rail Company built the 6.21-mile Moffat Tunnel to allow the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad to abandon its rail line that snaked over Rollins Pass. The tunnel shortened the route by 23 miles.

Until just two years ago, discharge from the aging tunnel into the Fraser River was virtually ignored.

Kirk Klancke, local river health advocate, likened the tunnel to “a big hole in the ground that can leach heavy metals.”

Just what those metals are and how much of them threaten river quality, however, is to be closely assessed by monthly tests conducted by Union Pacific.

Railroad spokesperson Mark Davis said the railroad had already been doing tests. Union Pacific is “in the process of reviewing the amended draft that was sent to them by the state,” he said, adding the railroad will have comments prepared Friday.

Recent attention to diminishing flows in the Fraser River precipitated the county’s concern.

“It’s not something outside of what we do ” we try and protect the streams,” said Commissioner James Newberry. “We say it all the time, water is the life blood of the county and the state. Anything we can do to protect that is our duty and responsibility ” it’s in the job description.”

“I think Grand County is waking up, because our rivers are so threatened. We’re paying more attention than we ever have on that,” Klancke said.

Newberry sees the state Department of Health and Environment as a government entity trying to let the railroad fix its issue, even though Grand County officials would rather “see it done tomorrow.”

Although they are pleased the state is addressing the problem, Winter Park West Water and Sanitation District Manager Klancke and District Manager for the Winter Park Water and Sanitation District Michael Wageck hope the railroad will be held to the same requirements as sanitation districts and governments along the river.

Those treatment facilities constructed to comply with state environmental regulations cost taxpayers anywhere from $3 million to $15 million. On the low end, treatment-operating costs for filtering particles can range from $270,000 to $320,000 annually.

At the Eastern Portal of the Moffat Tunnel, Union Pacific discharges water into South Boulder Creek. There, a sediment pond is meant to keep certain amounts of suspended solids out of the creek.

That water treatment on the east side helps supply clean drinking water to Denver Water.

“If the state sees the wisdom in treating discharged water on the east side, it should see the wisdom of treating discharge on the west side,” Klancke said.

“I guess the answer to that is, they do see the wisdom. They’re just working into it slowly.”

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail

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