By John Colson
Sopris Sun Correspondent
A relatively unheralded local organization called the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association (CVEPA) has been working doggedly but quietly for decades “to protect the unique environment of the Crystal River Valley,” as stated on the home page of the organization’s website (www.cvepa.org).
Started in 1972 by a group of citizens hoping to quash a move to put a lift-served ski area next to the hamlet of Marble, CVEPA has been in the trenches in nearly every battle over development in the Crystal River Valley — from fighting to force the bankrupt Mid-Continent Resources coal mining company to clean up Coal Basin, near Redstone, after mining shut down in 1991, to the ongoing effort to have 39 miles of the Crystal River designated as Wild & Scenic, CVEPA and its members have been there.
The organization is run by a board of directors, currently presided over by former Pitkin County Commissioner Dorothea Farris, working with board members John Armstrong, Chuck Downey, John Emerick, John Hoffmann, Bill Jochems, Bill Spence, Peter Westcott and Dale Will, according to the website.
Although CVEPA may not be as instantly recognizable to the general public as, say, the Wilderness Workshop or other nonprofits in the region, its work is cited as important to the environmental movement by other organizations doing similar work.
“I would view them as being reliable, consistent and valuable,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop.
Acknowledging that CVEPA is not a household name even among environmentally aware residents, Shoemaker said, “They pop up every now and then when something happens that would affect the Crystal River Valley. They’re a quiet but concerned and vigilant sentry for the Crystal Valley.”
Even beyond the Crystal Valley, he added, “We’ve always found then to be a great ally in the things that we do” in the broader Western Slope region.
‘We’re fairly active, moving forward on all fronts,” said former Carbondale Trustee John Hoffmann, who has been a CVEPA board member for six years or so.
According to a summary of the group’s activities over the years, 1970s-era environmental activism gave CVEPA it’s cause, beginning with opposition to the proposed Marble Ski Area, which never got off the ground, although it built at least one lift that is still up, and operated for at least one year.
From the Marble Ski Area, the group went on to oppose the West Divide Project, a water storage and diversion effort harkening back to the early 1900s, which advocated construction of two dams (known as the Osgood and the Placita dams) on the Crystal River. The West Divide project was the brainchild of ranching interests in the relatively dry region south of Silt and New Castle.
The Osgood dam would have flooded the village of Redstone, while the Placita dam, named for a townsite just south of Redstone, would have backed up a reservoir all the way to the Bogan Flats campground area along Gunnison County Road 3 approaching Marble.
That particular fight lasted until 2013, when the West Divide proponents reached a settlement with opponents of the dams, including CVEPA and Pitkin County, and relinquished the conditional water rights for the two dams.
In addition, according to the website, the group has, since the 1970s:
• “Vigorously advocated the adoption of state legislation to secure minimum stream flows” in rivers and creeks around the state;
• “Called attention to the pollution of Coal Creek and the Crystal River resulting from Mid-Continent Resources’ coal mining activities in Coal Basin and, persistently but with mixed results, called upon state and federal agencies “to force Mid-Continent to clean up the mess,” which CVEPA believes will be a continuing problem “for decades to come.”
More recently, CVEPA has worked to prevent the Colorado Department of Transportation from collecting all the rocks and debris that falls onto the highway in the winter and spring, and dumping it into a wetlands area at the bottom of McClure Pass. CVEPA board members John Armstrong and Chuck Downey, in particular, are cited on the website for working “for the last several years” to stop the practice.
Hoffmann noted that, for years, “They were taking all the rocks coming down off the pass and dumping it into the wetland” that is located off the outside of the big curve of the highway at the bottom of the pass near Marble.
Because Highway 133 goes over the pass along an easement granted by the U.S. Forest Service (rather than an actual right-of-way owned by the state), Hoffmann said the negotiations have included the USFS as well as CDOT.
The new dump site, designated after a search of numerous possible receiving areas, will be a nine-acre area on the inside of the highway curve at the bottom of the pass, which is expected to “have a life of between 20 and 50 years,” according to the website.
Other current projects include:
• Working to extend the Crystal River Trail, currently terminating near the KOA Crystal River Campground over McClure Pass and on to Crested Butte, which Gov. John Hickenlooper this year designated as one of his top priorities in terms of adding to the state’s stock of bicycling trails;
• Mitigating environmental impacts from the White Banks Alabaster Mine near the confluence of Avalanche Creek and the Crystal River, which as of mid-2016 had not started actual mining activity or road relocation as permitted by the USFS;
• Seeking federal designation as a Wild and Scenic river for a 39-mile stretch of the Crystal River, from the town site of Crystal down to the diversion structure for the Sweet Jessup Canal irrigation ditch south of Carbondale. That designation effort, which would require an act of Congress or a decision by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, currently is stalled following a vote of the Marble Town Council to oppose designation for various reasons, though Farris said the CVEPA board plans to discuss it at a board meeting on Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. at the Third Street Center in Carbondale.
Hoffmann noted that, in addition to its ongoing work program, CVEPA is looking for new members to bring fresh ideas and energy to the board.
“Most of the people on the board have been on there for 10 years or more,” he commented, adding that the board hopes that some “inspiring young people” will join up and help out.
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Published in The Sopris Sun on September 22, 2016.