DOW approves Fountain Creek project – with ‘fishy’ conditions

       In a possible “all's well that ends well” scenario, the Division of Wildlife (DOW) has approved a permit for restoring Fountain Creek in front of Gold Hill Mesa, and Trout Unlimited - liking DOW's conditions - may even approve of the end result.
       “We're applauding the changes that have been made to the project, and we're waiting to see them implemented,” said Jack Hunter, president of the local Trout Unlimited chapter. The group had publicly complained in early February that the partnership planning the project would have a project unfriendly to fish and, as such, had withheld support.
       The project cost, estimated at $3.6 million, is being split among Colorado Springs Stormwater Enterprise, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and the Gold Hill Mesa development group.
       The plan now, according to Lisa Ross, a Stormwater engineer, is to put the project out to bids next week, with work getting started in mid-May and lasting three months. She agreed that as as a result of the changes “it will be more like a natural stream.”
       Dave Watt of CDOT said his agency is “poised to move forward. We've struck a good balance.”
       The only possible hold-up is one last permit from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which CDOT could only obtain after all the other permits were in, but Ross said no problems are expected. “CDOT has been working with them (FHWA) all along on this,” she said.
       The creek project area will start from Gold Hill's eastern boundary next to the trailer park and continue west 2,400 to 3,000 feet, depending on how favorable the bids from contractors are, Ross said. The work will include reshaping much of the creek and its banks (chiefly to ensure stabilization of Highway 24, which it parallels, and to keep gold mill tailings from washing downstream), strategically placing various sizes of rocks in the channel for flow control, and planting bushes and trees to prevent erosion.
       Doug Krieger, a senior aquatic biologist with DOW, said the main changes from the originally submitted project plan are:
  • Eliminating the grout that would have cemented rocks together.
  • Using bigger rocks as a result (so they're less likely to wash away).
  • Reducing the amount of river rock in the typical “low flow” creek channel (only a few feet wide) to keep it from getting too shallow and filled with sediment.
  • Increasing “sinuousity” (curves in the creek, which give fish more places to congregate).
           Because some of these changes will cost more and some less, the effect on the overall cost is negligible, according to Krieger and Ross.
           But in giving approval, Krieger stopped short of calling the project perfect. “We went for a compromise situation,” he said. To make it DOW-ideal, the partnership would have had to start over with a new restoration plan, and the DOW thinking was that would be asking too much.
           But Krieger plans to do more than sign the permit and move on. Based on discussions with the involved entities, “there is a willingness to have us on site as a consultant,” he said. “Some of these conditions are hard to design and put in blueprints. It will have to involve us working in the stream and with the heavy equipment operators in the placement of the rocks and trees.”
           In the end, Krieger's hope is that the local entities will learn what DOW wants a fish habitat to look like so that they - particularly Stormwater -will know how to do it in future creek projects. As an example of a place needing such attention, he noted the section between the trailer park and the Fountain Creek bridge at Eighth Street where, because of a project by City Engineering five years ago, “fish have been pretty much eliminated.”
           The previous schedule hope for the Stormwater/ Gold Hill/CDOT project, as announced in January, had been to go out to bids in February. However, approval was delayed because of the DOW concerns, which were similar to those of Trout Unlimited.
           “I won't say we influenced DOW, but I don't think the changes would have been made if we hadn't stepped forward,” Hunter said. “Our bringing this to public attention provided the impetus for the Division to take action.”
           He added the hope of working with the entities in the project partnership - although not a lot of joy was heard from them in February when Trout Unlimited went to the media.
           Probably the most outspoken in opposition to the group's involvement has been Bob Willard, leader of Gold Hill Mesa, who felt the group was demanding more than necessary. “We've done wonders for the quality of that stream,” he said in a recent interview. “No one is going to do any trout fishing there.”

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