Stories from the Crystal Clear, November, 2014

Crystal River Wild & Scenic Update

     Over the past year, a citizens' committee has been taking the first steps to obtain a Wild & Scenic designation for the Crystal River.  This designation would protect a free flowing river  by preventing dams from being built and by prohibiting water diversion from the Crystal Valley.  Here is the history of the Wild and Scenic effort, leading up to the current status at the end of 2014.

     1968- Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968  is passed into law, in which "selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”

     Mid 1980s -- CVEPA takes the first steps toward designation by taking an inventory of the lands near the river and outlining a general proposal.  There is interest, but also opposition, mainly from the ranching community and stakeholders near Marble.

     1992- USFS – White River National Forest The USFS concludes that the Crystal River is Eligible for Wild and Scenic Designation under the Act, and starts managing the river in that way.

     1990s -- CVEPA, the National Park Service, and area ranchers meet over several years to develop a survey to gauge how the public would like to see the river managed.  Results of the survey are quite favorable for Wild and Scenic designation, but the Park Service never officially releases the results.

    2000s -- Support for designation quietly grows as area ranchers place conservation easements on their properties and citizens realize designation would protect the Crystal from dams and diversions while not affecting private property rights.

    2012 – Most Endangered River - American Rivers lists the Crystal River as one of America’s  Ten Most Endangered Rivers, largely because of the ongoing threat of a dam on the river.

     2013 – Placita and Osgood Reservoirs removed from books–Pitkin County, after initial encouragement from CVEPA, achieves a settlement which results in The West Divide Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River Conservation District  relinquishing their rights for dams and water diversion on the Crystal River. 

     2012-2014 – Citizen’s Petition Project –A Citizens' Committee (Chuck Ogilby, William Jochems, and Dorothea Farris) is in discussion (November Meeting) with the Crystal River Wild & Scenic organizing committee to review comments heard, support received, recommendations for the proposal, and next steps necessary to enable the presentation to the USFS of the Citizen’s request for a determination of Suitability for the Wild and Scenic Designation of the Crystal River from The North Fork of the Crystal in Fravert Basin and the South Fork of the Crystal at Scofield Pass down stream to the intake to, but not including, the head gate of the Sweet Jessup canal on the Crystal (about 7 miles below Redstone). 

     NEXT – A supportive vote of the US Congress is necessary for designation. The proposal will be customized to meet local needs and desires.  The goals to protect the water resources and the free flowing nature of the Crystal River, to support the ranching, recreational, environmental, economic, historic, cultural, and spiritual qualities of the Crystal River Valley, and to protect the River from dams and diversions are supported by CVEPA.  Future steps as we move forward to designation will require support from all of us.  

Update on Elbram Stone LLC, White Banks Mine,
(the alabaster mine in Avalanche Creek)

     Before any proposed work can take place at the alabaster mine along Avalanche Creek, a Plan of Operations must be signed by both Elbram Stone LLC  (Walt Brown, owner, and Robert Congdon, manager) and the USFS, White River National Forest.  No work at the mine is anticipated this winter, access to the proposed mine site is limited, and the vehicle gate will be closed on Nov. 22, 2014 by the Aspen and Sopris Ranger District to protect the bighorn sheep during the winter months.

      USFS crews, however, will be conducting a timber cruise in the mine area so a timber volume can be determined for an off-site timber exchange for future use by the mine operator.  Although an alternative public road, adjacent to the creek and the old Janeway campground has been identified, the operator needs to sign the proposed Plan of Operations, demonstrate a need for the road, and post an additional bond before any road construction  activity can occur. 

Production phase operations for the marble resource is contingent upon a Forest Service determination the brown and/or black marble meets distinct characteristics to be classified as a locatable mineral.  Review of the brown marble  by a Forest Service Certified Mineral Examiner is in process and results of that review are expected by March 2015.

     The CVEPA Board of Directors is aware of the interest in and concern about the potential for development in Avalanche Creek.   CVEPA is on record as strongly opposed to mining in the Avalanche Creek valley and  will continue to follow any discussions with Pitkin County and the USFS so that we might report to CVEPA members.   

Thompson Divide Coalition 2014 Year in Review:
       Last year, in partnership with local communities, the Thompson Divide Coalition of outdoor enthusiasts, ranchers, sportsmen and conservationists made significant strides towards reaching our ultimate goal: permanent protections for federal lands in the Thompson Divide area.

      Here are just a few items from a long list of TDC accomplishments over the past year.

    * Commissioned independent geologic and economic analysis, peer-reviewed by faculty at the Colorado School of Mines, finding “little to no economic viability” for the drilling of oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide.
   *  Collected new signatures from thousands of individuals and hundreds of small businesses urging federal land management agencies to protect the area from development.
     * Generated frequent and impactful media coverage – including news stories, opinion editorials and letters to the editor – in local, regional and national news outlets.
       *  Released a second phase of defensible baseline water quality analysis – further demonstrating that the watersheds in the Thompson Divide are "healthy, uncontaminated and support significant populations of aquatic organisms."  
      *Secured the Glenwood Springs Post Independent’s editorial support for conserving the Thompson Divide when the region’s largest newspaper wisely proclaimed “our region doesn’t need to risk the real and sustainable jobs already supported by the area for the iffy promise of new work in a cyclical industry.” 
     * Increased grassroots outreach that has helped to secure additional support from area residents, local governments, and statewide-elected officials – all of which has helped us expand our broad-based Coalition.

     Obviously, it’s been a busy year here at TDC. But while we're very proud of our past successes, we are clear-eyed about the difficulty of the challenge that lies ahead. The continuation of this campaign will require a concentrated surge of activity in the coming year to prevent oil and gas development in heart of the White River National Forest.

The defense of the Thompson Divide is arguably the defining environmental challenge of our region – and there is essentially unanimous community support for keeping it drill-rig-free. 

The upcoming year is a critical time for the campaign. Legislation will need to be reintroduced and Forest Service and BLM are set to make crucial decisions affecting the future of the Thompson Divide.

Don’t Miss this Video
A powerful video about the Crystal River and its surrounding drainage, with amazing views of our valley and its many environmental treasures has been created by local, Peter McBride.  It can be viewed on the internet at, and also from a link on the new webpage.  The video presents a dramatic summary of the many things that make the Crystal Valley so special.  The message it delivers says it all about why residents of the Crystal River Valley become so riled up when big money tries to take our water and drill our National Forests.   The video was made in support of the effort of obtain the Federal designation of Wild and Scenic for the Crystal.  Without this designation, we have so very much to lose.

     Over the past 5-years CVEPA has pressed hard to have the 217-acre private parcel in upper Coal Basin comply with county revegetation regulations after major earthmoving projects that reshaped the land were completed. 

     This private parcel was purchased in 2004 by the current owner who immediately began a massive earthmoving project to reshape the lower reaches of the property which is located at the end of the paved Coal Basin road.   Over a three-year period, topsoil and rock from the upper reaches of the property around the Lamp House was extracted and moved to the lower part.  Also, part of the ridge between Coal and Dutch creeks was reshaped to accommodate a single family house, which has not been built.  All this earth moving left about 25-acres of land stripped of topsoil and vegetation, and exposed to erosion from spring runoff and summer thunder storms.  Most of this work was done without a permit from the County.

     Permits from the County, along with detailed plans for all developments, are required before any construction or earthmoving can begin.  County code also requires revegetation of disturbed land on any project.  Most of the work above as was done without a permit from the County. 

     The property has recently been posted for sale ($5.5 million, any takers?) and the owner has suddenly taken an interest in improving the condition of his land.   At a meeting this past August with CVEPA and Pitkin County, the land manager for this parcel agreed to complete all of the revegetation on the upper parts of the parcel by October, 2014 and the lower part in the spring of 2015.  In keeping with that commitment, a large hydroseeding project on the upper part of the parcel was completed by early October. 

     Spring should bring a very different look to hydroseeded acreage on the upper reaches of the property in the areas around the old lamphouse.   And if a promise is kept, the lower part of this 217-acre parcel in the vicinity of the USFS trailhead will also take on a very green look.

     Over the past 4 years there have been two other major revegetation projects in upper Coal Basin on Forest Service land.  One is the Cow Stomp project on the main fork of the upper Crystal, which has been sponsored and funded by CVEPA.  A summary of the progress on this project is contained elsewhere in this Crystal Clear.    The other revegetation project is a USFS effort on Dutch Creek, about ½ mile above the Lamp House.  This project has implemented major drainage improvements to direct runoff from heavy rainfall and thunder storms directly into Dutch Creek and away from open forests and grasslands.


New CDOT Highway Debris Dump Site
     After CVEPA complained to both the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) about a rock dump encroaching on wetlands, the agencies are considering a new location for CDOT to dispose of material generated from mud and rock flows on Highway 133.  The proposed new site is on the inside of the big horseshoe on Highway 133, on the Redstone side of McClure Pass.  CDOT has phased out and re-vegetated the old Highway 133 dump site at Placita and has already started to use the new Horseshoe site.

     The proposed new dump site, shown on the accompanying graphic, is on the inside of the Horseshoe and will include about 9+ acres of National Forest land.  It is projected to provide debris storage for 30 years.  Over the past 3 years, CVEPA has been integrally involved in a comprehensive re-vegetation and visual screening plan for the new site.  The proposed screening program will employ 6-10 feet high berms generally paralleling the highway with a slowly undulating top, and covered with an array of conifer trees and shrubs.  Native grasses will also be used on the berms and on the re-vegetated interior. 

     Dumping will be performed in phases within the site, generally consuming an area of less than an acre at a time.  When one area is filled, dumping will move to an adjacent site and re-vegetation will be completed on the filled site.    Construction of screening berms and planting of the re-vegetated trees shrubs and grasses will be completed ahead of dumping within each phase.

      You can see the latest letter CVEPA sent regarding the rock dump on our new webpage:  Look under Current Projects: CDOT Rock Dump.


Did you know; the existing paved highway 133 over McClure pass was constructed in 1964.  It replaced the old dirt road up the pass that started at Placita and switchbacked to the McClure summit.  The ROW for that road still exists today and is used year round by hikers, bicyclists and snowshoe travelers.  It is likely that this route will eventually become a link in the Carbondale-to-Crested Butte bike path through the Crystal Valley.



Proposed Rock Disposal Area – Site Plan

McClure Pass – Horseshoe Bend, White River National Forest

Colorado Department of Transportation

 New Energy for Wild and Scenic

     In some ways, the Crystal is closer than ever to getting Wild and Scenic River status.  Never has public support been so high.  Never before have so many obstacles been cleared off the table, now that West Divide Water District has relinquished rights to the Placita and Osgood dams on the Crystal River and other water diversions.  If only there wasn't such a partisan divide in Washington!  However, with wide-spread local support, this might be an issue that can triumph over a dysfunctional national government.

    CVEPA has long had Wild and Scenic status as a primary goal for giving long term protection to the Crystal River.  Twice before -- once for several years in the 1980s and once for several years in the 1990s -- CVEPA expended considerable energy seeking Wild and Scenic status.  This time, while CVEPA certainly still supports such designation, it is not actively pushing the proposal.  Why?  The short and simple answer is politics.

     As a watchdog and activist organization, CVEPA has taken stands over the decades that have alienated us from certain individuals and groups.  Our stands, from fighting for access to public lands, opposing excessive corporate profits from public resources, and urging stronger regulations or enforcement to protect the environment on public lands, not to mention the word 'environmental' in our name, has made some individuals opposed to anything we propose. 

     Consequently, CVEPA was happy to see a small group of citizens step forward to lead the next effort for Wild and Scenic status after the Placita Dam was removed as a threat.  Now the proposal can be viewed on its merits by all stakeholders, without past history influencing the outcome.

     The Citizens' Committee, made up of Chuck Ogilby, Bill Jochems and Dorothea Farris, has been meeting with interested stakeholders, including ranchers, recreationists, environmental organizations, land owners, governmental entities, towns, counties and special districts which would be affected  to learn of concerns before any proposal is written.  In this way the concerns can be addressed and written into the proposal.  For example, the Roaring Fork Conservancy will still want to do work in the river to address water quality, and ranchers will want to make sure their water rights are not affected.

     The Citizens' Committee is basically doing the work of the US Forest Service, which determined the Crystal was eligible and has been managing the Crystal as a Wild and Scenic river for several decades. The Forest Service should be writing a new management plan and determining if the river is 'suitable' for designation, but does not have the funds to do so.  The Committee is working on the second of three steps for designation: suitability.  This entails gauging public support, addressing concerns of stakeholders, and writing a proposal.

     The final step will be getting congressional approval for the proposal.  This will happen in one of two ways: either getting our representative (Scott Tipton) and senators (Bennet and Gardner) to present the proposal to Congress, or have Governor Hickenlooper and Colorado legislators to put the proposal before Congress.  It remains to be seen how legislators will react to the proposal, but with strong local support it may be that this can be a non-partisan issue.



     The alabaster mine near the Crystal River and Avalanche Creek, known both as the Mystic Eagle and White Banks Mine, is once again pushing for winter operations, which would threaten the bighorn sheep which winter in the area. David Francomb, Assistant Ranger of the Sopris Ranger District tried to limit the dates of operation to protect the bighorn herd, but was overruled by the Denver office for reasons which are unclear.  However, a plan of operations is still not approved, so winter operations are not likely this year.  Access to the proposed mine site is limited, and the vehicle gate was closed on Nov. 22 by the Aspen and Sopris Ranger District to protect the bighorn sheep during the winter months, at least for this year.

     There is some question whether the mine is legal in the first place, which revolves around the value of the alabaster rock, and whether some of the rock, such as the carved eagle often shown, is actually from rock from the mine.  Production phase operations for the marble resource is contingent upon a Forest Service determination the brown and/or black rock is actually marble and meets distinct characteristics to be classified as a locatable mineral.  Review of the brown marble by a Forest Service certified mineral examiner is in process and the results of that review are expected by March 2015.

      The good news is that much of the junk on the mine site has been removed, and the Forest Service is working to find an alternate site for timber for the mine, so the trees along Avalanche Creek can be spared.  By law, the timber on mining claims can be used to shore up inside the mine, so finding an alternate site to trade for an equivalent amount of timber is an excellent move by our local Forest Service office.

       The mine operators have applied for an alternative public road, adjacent to the creek and the old Janeway campground, but before it can be built the operators need to demonstrate a need for the road, sign the proposed Plan of Operations, and post an additional bond before any road construction activity can occur. 

     The CVEPA Board of Directors is aware of the interest in and concern about the potential for development in Avalanche Creek, especially the effect winter operations would have on the bighorn sheep in the area.   CVEPA is on record as strongly opposed to mining in the Avalanche Creek Valley and  will continue to follow any discussions with Pitkin County and the USFS and the mine owners.