Pitkin County moves ahead with $1 million river project — @AspenJournalism

The Robinson Diversion, located just upstream from the boat ramp on Willits Lane has long presented a hazard for boaters on the Roaring Fork River. Pitkin County Healthy Rivers has secured roughly $256,000 in grant money to permanently fix the area. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers board is moving ahead with a nearly $1 million project to fix a problem spot on the Roaring Fork River between old town Basalt and Willits.

For the past few years, the board has been steadily accumulating grant money to fix the Robinson Diversion, an area known to boaters as Anderson Falls. The diversion is a line of rocks across the river, designed to help water flow into a channel on river right and into the headgate of the Robinson Ditch.

The spot, just upstream of the small boat ramp on Willits Lane near the FedEx outlet, has long presented a tricky obstacle to boaters, especially at low water.

And although repairs last April by the ditch company created a much-improved boat channel, the area remains vulnerable to winter ice flows and spring runoff, which could rearrange the rocks. Pitkin County is hoping to fund a more permanent fix.

The headgate for the Robinson Diversion is located on river right, just upstream from the boat ramp on Willits Lane on the Roaring Fork River. The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Board is moving forward on a nearly $1 million project to fix the Robinson Diversion structure. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Option A

Last month, Healthy Rivers board members informally decided to move forward with restoration project “option A” with an estimated cost of $935,000.

The work, by Carbondale-based River Restoration, would include creating two smaller drops in the river, instead of one large drop, which would still allow water to reach the Robinson Ditch’s headgate. The project also would make some improvements to the diversion structure and result in better fish habitat.

River Restoration also presented Healthy Rivers with an “option B,” which would modify the existing rocks and extend the drop downstream to make for a more mellow ride in a raft, ducky or kayak. That option would cost roughly $586,000 but would not include fish-habitat work or improvements to the diversion headgate.

Board members decided to stick with the more complete “option A.”

“We might be wasting money if we don’t go big on this project,” said Healthy Rivers board member Lisa Tasker. “Going big means finding a solution to the Robinson Ditch rearranging the river bed year after year. One of the biggest goals is to have less equipment get into the river.”

Pitkin County commissioners have to approve expenditures from the Healthy Rivers board, which is a recommending body.

Blazing Adventures runs commercial river trips from Snowmass Canyon to just below the Robinson Diversion structure, usually starting in July as spring runoff fades. Owner Vince Nichols said the boat chute last year was a great improvement, but he would welcome a more permanent fix.

“Our main takeaway would be safety and having a boatable passage,” he said.

It’s unclear yet whether the Robinson Ditch Co., which owns and operates the structure and headgate, will contribute monetarily to the project, but manager Bill Reynolds said he is in support of fixing the structure.

“I welcome anything that helps all the boaters, fisherman, all the users on the river,” he said. “And if the ditch company can gain a better structure out there, that will help everybody. It’s a win-win.”

The headgate for the Robinson Diversion is located on river right, just upstream from the boat ramp on Willits Lane on the Roaring Fork River. The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Board is moving forward on a nearly $1 million project to fix the Robinson Diversion structure. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Rising costs

So far, Healthy Rivers has amassed $256,216 in grant money for the project: a $171,216 Colorado Water Plan grant, a $45,000 Water Supply Reserve Fund grant — both are state funds from the Colorado Water Conservation Board — and a $40,000 Fishing Is Fun grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

These are matching grants, with the county currently committed to contributing at least roughly $246,000 toward the project.

According to Lisa MacDonald, a paralegal in the county attorney’s office, Healthy Rivers has no other grants in the works for the project, but it continues to look for more opportunities and funding. The project is still short of funding by about $430,000, and as time goes on, project costs continue to rise.

The price tag on the project in 2017 was $800,000. By this year, it had increased to $935,000.

“(The project) has a large footprint and we have to move the river during construction,” said Quinn Donnelly of River Restoration. “There are so few contractors that do the work, and it’s involved. There is risk involved.”

To make up the funding gap, MacDonald said the county could seek contributions from Eagle County, the town of Basalt, the ditch company and grants from Great Outdoors Colorado.

“The board does need to talk about exactly where the rest of that funding will come from,” Tasker said. “We are moving forward and will have discussions about how to cover what our grants do not.”

Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story ran in the March 8 edition of The Aspen Times.

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