Respected environmentalist Tim Hogan’s letter to the newspaper, outlining the issues.
For many longtime residents of Boulder, the current proposal from the university requesting annexation, engineered flood mitigation, and additions to their housing and academic building portfolio stirs up a host of reservations. The more one delves into the details, the greater those reservations become.
- Floodplains and riparian areas are the wrong places to locate human buildings and attendant infrastructure. Have we already set aside memories of September 2013? Boulder avoided many of the more dire effects of that flood due to planning over past decades that placed open spaces and parks into flood plains across the city and county.
- On the other hand, floodplains and riparian areas are excellent habitat for plants and wildlife, and natural detention for flood control. In large part, that is why the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan placed 220 acres of the CU-South property into open space.
- The property is comprised of the old Flatirons gravel pits, and the original restoration plan for the Flatiron quarry included 42 acres of ponds, wetlands, and the removal of berms built to channel water around the pits.
- The university purchased the property under veiled circumstance in 1996 and soon after enlarged the berms along the south and east edges of the site for which it was reprimanded by Boulder County. Successive augmentations have reduced the floodplain by an estimated 75%, diverting hazardous floodwaters downstream.
- The university has now released a preliminary draft of their intentions if the area is annexed into the city, a plan that includes eight academic buildings, 1,125 housing units, and parking lots for 700 vehicles. Their vision presumes a 30 foot tall, high-hazard dam will be built along U.S. 36 at a conservative cost of $22-$35 million. This dam has numerous problems:
a. The dam would extend from Table Mesa Drive to South Boulder Creek and, anchored to bedrock, will cut off the flow of groundwater providing unique habitat for sensitive species including Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, Ute ladies’ tresses orchid, northern leopard frog, and others. When this plan was considered by Open Space and Water Resources Boards (OSBT on 5-13-15; WRAB on 5-18-15) and by City Council on 8-4-15 the plan included “an earthen berm” (as the flood mitigation structure under “option D”). The proposed dam is a significant change with major implications for the State Natural Area/Open Space lands.
b. At recent BVCP meetings on CU-South, two hydrologists pointed out the “high hazard dam” would impede groundwater flow and dewater the wetlands on OSMP’s property which, based on stipulations in City Council’s motion adopting the South Boulder Creek Flood Mitigation Plan on 8-4-15, requires staff return the Plan to OSBT to fully consider the additional impacts on Open Space and make an updated recommendation to Council.
c. Two “potential trail connections to South Boulder Creek Trail” are shown on the new map from CU. Both “connections” are totally incompatible with OSMP regulations and management decisions made to protect the natural resources on that land. The connection from the east side of the CU property to the South Boulder Creek Trail would put a trail and weed corridor through and across a wet meadow and tallgrass area that contains threatened and imperiled species and would bisect habitat that is of such high quality that it has been designated a State Natural Area. Both that connection on the east side and another one on the south side of the CU property would bring dogs off-leash from the CU dog use area into an area that has been designated “no dog” through a comprehensive OSMP public participation process.
d. When city staff presented a previous plan for the CU-South property to the Open Space Board of Trustees along with consultants’ reports, they identified an area in the south-central part of the property as an area of high open space values. That plan was approved by OSBT. Now, in the May 1 Plan, CU has placed their “Academic Village” in that area.
- The most economic, effective, and elegant solution for the property in south Boulder is to restore the entire 308 acres to open space, remove the illegal berm so floodwaters could once again be absorbed into the wetlands and ponds within the site, and employ the abandoned quarry as a detention pond to ameliorate extreme flood events.
In an article published in the Daily Camera on May 1st in which the university publicly revealed its long-term aspirations for the property, an official said CU wants the property to be as beautiful as it is functional, promoting trail connectivity and open space – “when people are driving into Boulder, we want them to look at this and be proud of it.” CU’s actions around this property over the past 20 years have hardly engendered the trust such comments call forth.
Many Boulder citizens driving into town would take greater pride in finding a thriving nature preserve proximate to the southern gateway. Such a preserve would serve as an ecologically functional floodplain, offering habitat for a host of plants and wildlife, and a resource for passive recreational use. Rather than an unsightly dam posing uncertain dangers, we would recognize the area as providing us an elegant service, honoring a land ethic that contributes to the “integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community” of which we are all part.
Comments informed and derived from sources in Boulder Daily Camera – An ill-conceived plan at CU South, M.D. LeCompte (2/19/2017); Not so fast on CU South annexation, A. Siemel (3/4/2017); Use Flatiron gravel pits for floodwater detention, B. Binder (3/5/2017) – and internal memos from concerned citizens focused upon public lands issues in the city and county.]