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Health department details deficiencies on Boulder Canyon project

Contractor says issues remedied, standard for large project

Construction and traffic delays continue in Boulder Canyon on Tuesday.
Construction and traffic delays continue in Boulder Canyon on Tuesday.

State health officials documented 16 separate control measure deficiencies in an inspection performed last month at the site of the ongoing road improvement project on Colo. 119 in Boulder Canyon.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Water Quality Control Division conducted a construction stormwater inspection Sept. 18, prompted by a complaint over erosion control concerns filed by the environmental advocacy group, Boulder Waterkeeper.

Construction and traffic delays continue in Boulder Canyon on Tuesday.

On Sept. 20, state health officials told Longmont-based contractor Zak Dirt the inspection had identified a number of “corrective actions” which needed to be addressed immediately.

At that time, the CDPHE released a statement which also said, “In general, the department inspectors observed that Zak Dirt and Colorado Department of Transportation did act diligently to address the potential for erosion and sediment releases to Boulder Creek associated with this large construction project,” and that its findings “did not rise to the level that requires written response from the permittee,” and that no further action or oversight by state health officials would be necessary “at this time.”

The detailed preliminary reports stemming from the Sept. 18 inspection are now available at the state health department’s website.

Among the findings detailed are: concrete waste piles outside of containment; sediment control log was run over and smashed; sediment control logs ripped and torn; rock reinforcement equipment dust controls not functioning; sediment control logs not trenched in or backfilled and compacted and control measures were not installed to the edge of disturbance; erosion logs were not entrenched and installed to good engineering, hydraulic, and pollution practices.

Each of these were indicated on the report as carrying “a potential” for pollution discharge.

The word “potential” was emphasized in a statement Tuesday by Jared Fiel, regional communication manager for CDOT’s northeastern regional office.

“The findings in the CDPHE report were all ‘potential’ items, meaning there was no actual discharge effect on any streams,” Fiel said.

“Most of these items had been identified by CDOT and erosion control experts with the contractor and were already being addressed before the CDPHE visit. These items are fairly typical on a site since erosion logs are intended to ‘erode’ and have to be periodically replaced.”

Fiel’s statement added, “Again, CDOT is following all aspects of our permits and we welcome all official organizations at any time.”

Pete Sewczak, president of Zak Dirt, called the state report “pretty typical” for a project of such a size.

“These were all basically minor in scope, and were able to be remedied within 24 hours,” Sewczak said on Tuesday. “We’re talking about a 15-mile long project, so that comes out to about one (deficiency) per mile, to put it in perspective. Certainly, that is not uncommon, based on what we have experienced in the past. And we have always been in compliance on our permits.”

The state health department inspection concerned a stretch of Colo. 119, also known as Boulder Canyon Drive, which is currently undergoing $31 million in repair and improvements to the primary route between Boulder and Nederland that was compromised by the devastating flood of September 2013. The project, which currently requires full closures for four hours a day, four days a week due to blasting, is expected to conclude in the summer of 2020.

Art Hirsch, a retired environmental engineer serving as spokesman for Boulder Waterkeeper, and who filed the Sept. 8 complaint which triggered the inspection, said a number of areas of concern were flagged for CDOT when he met with officials there May 28.

“Most of these observations were mentioned to CDOT in the May-June timeframe,” he stated in an email. “Pictures of non-compliances were sent to CDOT Region 4 Greeley.”

The Sept. 8 complaint was triggered by observations another Boulder Waterkeeper made, supported by photographs, of heavy sediment in the creek at Boulder’s Eben G. Fine Park, downstream from the construction project.

In an interview Tuesday, Hirsch underscored what he sees as the importance of ongoing monitoring for the project.

“I know they are strapped for resources,” he said of the state health department. “I don’t know what’s even going to happen with the permit holder. Are they going to get a notice of violation, are they going to get their hand slapped, or is CDPHE going to say ‘We gave you these correction actions, and we expect you to take care of them,’ and then they walk away?”

Fiel took issue with Hirsch’s contention that items cited in the Sept. 18 inspection report were the same as those identified by Hirsch in the late spring.

“Most of the areas in the report were not in active construction in May-June so there is no way we could have been alerted to them during that time,” Fiel said.

“We feel like we’re in compliance with the permit, and we feel like those findings reflect that,” Sewczak added.

MaryAnn Nason, a spokesperson for the CDPHE, said the finalized versions of the inspection reports, which will communicate to the contractor “beyond a checklist of corrective actions,” have not been issued yet. The estimated issuance for that final report is 30 days from the Sept. 18 inspection.