Rowdy Runoff + Uranium activity on Bears Ears border
A snowmelt torrent takes a bite out of Highway 133, stranding Somerset residents
I hadn’t intended this dispatch to be about the runoff. In fact, I intended to write about weird infrastructure built to try to engineer our way out of drought (and to meet water compact agreements). But a bunch of snowmelt stuff (plus some uranium drilling) started happening, so there you go.
Bear Creek takes a bite out of Western Slope artery
By David Marston
Writers on the Range
Residents of the small Western Colorado community of Somerset were cut off from much of the rest of the world this week after a torrent of snowmelt washed out State Highway 133, an important regional artery, just west of town. The only link to Paonia and other down-valley towns where Somerset folks shop and work is now impassible by car.
At the end of April, a roaring cascade of water tore down the Bear Creek arroyo, crumpling, then dragging a highway culvert onto the hillside below. Locals observed the ruined culvert and informed the Colorado Department of Transportation on Saturday, April 29, says Elise Thatcher, Communications Manager for CDOT Region 3. At that time, the roadway was still intact. But with the culvert gone, the soil and gravel supporting the road eroded away and collapsed, creating a “sinkhole” under the asphalt. Thatcher said CDOT monitored the roadway until the pavement collapsed into the abyss sometime in the early hours of May 3.
“I risked it last night at 6 p.m. (Tuesday, May 2) when there was still a road,” says Somerset resident Tanya Blacklight, “but this morning I woke and I’m trapped.” Blacklight filmed her risky drive, with water streaming over the roadway, and posted it on Facebook.
Bear Creek drains the Pilot Knob roadless area on the edge of Grand Mesa, a favorite spot for sportsmen, hikers, and hunters. It usually doesn’t see huge snow accumulations, but this year was unusual, with as much as two times the median snowpack blanketing some parts of Western Colorado. When temperatures climbed in mid- to late-April, the snow began rapidly melting, swelling area streams and rivers.
High-water mayhem didn’t completely halt commerce between Paonia and the region’s largest coal mine, however. Locals report that CDOT and canal honchos worked out a shuttle service, using the Fire Mountain Canal Road to ferry coal miners to the West Elk Coal Mine, five miles north of the washout
.Thatcher says to stay tuned this afternoon when new information will be released.
For now, it’s time for locals to hunker down and travelers to plan other routes. “We expect an extended closure, with no estimated time of reopening. The repairs will need to be extensive,” says Thatcher. Meanwhile, CDOT is working with local authorities to allow Somerset folks access to their properties. “We want to make sure residents need to get where they need to go.”
Blacklight has other ideas, “If I had a raft, I could get to my job that way – and fast.”
Maybe everyone in Western Colorado should trade in their cars for a raft …
When I got the dual press releases from Kraken Energy and Atomic Minerals earlier this week, I barely batted an eye. They appeared only to be some more investor bait, touting their latest “assay results” or what not. But then I got messages from not one, but two environmental watchdogs, pointing me to a critical line in the releases: “Permitted to Drill: The Harts Point Property is permitted for up to 25 exploration drill holes pending the posting of a US$58,000 bond to the BLM.”
But that’s not all. This project, which we’ve written about before, lies just outside Bears Ears National Monument. It also falls within the boundaries originally proposed by the tribal nations behind the national monument. It’s also pretty darned close to the Indian Creek climbing area.
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s Landon Newell wrote in an email:
“… this proposal is not subject to NEPA review but can proceed after BLM completes a basic ‘check-the-box’ exercise and receives a reclamation bond (in this instance, the above-referenced $58k). Put differently, the company can drill 25 wells a stone’s throw from Bears Ears (and within the 1.9-million-acre Tribal proposal) without NEPA analysis or public involvement. It is the ultimate free pass for companies to destroy public lands for private profit.”
Drilling doesn’t necessarily lead to mining, by any means. But it is destructive in its own right, especially when done in a fragile desert environment like Harts Point.
More mining news, BLM suspends approval for Big Flat lithium drilling near Moab, Utah, Company still eyes production plant, Green River expansion....https://www.moabtimes.com/articles/blm-suspends-approval-for-big-flat-lithium-drilling/
Thank you David and Jonathan for the concise writeup about the Bear Creek Hwy133 incident. It's better than our local news info. It figures that PJ is in the mix.😁 Coincidentally Hwy 133 was closed yesterday up by McClure Pass because of slides. It seems Somerset is really isolated now. Maybe Union Pacific can add a passenger car to the coal train to get some public/private transit going up the valley.