From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):
Commissioners say they hate the project, but the odds of winning a lawsuit were poor. Denver Water upped the offer to help mitigate impacts of construction to $12.5 million.
The Boulder County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a settlement allowing Denver Water to expand the dam and pool at Gross Reservoir, despite vocal opposition from some residents, after a $10 million mitigation deal was sweetened by $2.5 million to soften construction impacts for neighbors.
Denver Water is likely to vote Wednesday to approve a total of $12.5 million in mitigation and open space donations for Boulder County, after last-minute talks raised the sum.
The commissioners said they were heartsick at the destruction the dam expansion will cause for neighbors and for revered county open lands. But, they added, county attorneys advised them that federal laws preempt their planning process because the existing dam includes a hydroelectric generator and is therefore controlled by federal laws.
The attorneys said Boulder County would lose a federal suit filed by Denver Water and that the agency would withdraw its mitigation offer if they delayed a vote.
Denver Water already has the federal approval it needs to raise the dam on South Boulder Creek by 131 feet, and inundate the surrounding forest for 77,000 more acre-feet of storage, nearly tripling capacity…
The commissioners wanted Denver Water to go through the county’s existing “1041” land use process, allowed under state law, before construction on the Gross Reservoir expansion begins. But in July, Denver Water sued, saying federal laws superseded Boulder County’s process and that its federal permit required the utility to begin construction by 2022. Boulder County was intentionally slowing down the project, Denver Water argued…
Denver Water Manager Jim Lochhead said in a statement after the vote, “I appreciate that this was a hard and emotional decision for the Boulder County Commissioners.
“We have tried for the last year to go through the County’s 1041 land use process, and only after delays were we forced to file litigation to prevent violation of the order by FERC for us to commence construction of the project. Denver Water continues to be committed to do everything in our power to mitigate local impacts of construction,” Lochhead said.
Construction would impact surrounding forests, trails, roads and neighbors, and also temporarily cut off access to popular open spaces in parts of the area. Commissioner Marta Loachamin said she toured areas around Gross Reservoir for the first time in June, and was struck by markings in the forest showing how many trees will have to be removed and how high the new water pool will rise in the canyon.
Conservation groups who have sued to stop the dam expansion can continue to negotiate with Denver Water for additional mitigation, deputy county attorney David Hughes told the commissioners. Denver Water has indicated they would continue to talk with the groups, he said…
The conservation groups are adamant Boulder County could have negotiated for more mitigation. Save the Colorado and PLAN-Boulder County said they had proposed $70 million in mitigation as a settlement, and that Boulder County stopped including them in talks last week.
The agreement with Denver Water now includes:
$5 million for the construction impacts on immediate neighbors of the reservoir. $5.1 million to Boulder County open space funding to acquire new land or repair and maintain trails and facilities under extra strain from visitors who can’t use Gross Reservoir spaces. $1.5 million to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from construction. $1 million for South St. Vrain Creek restoration. A transfer of 70 acres of Denver Water land near Gross Reservoir to Boulder County to expand Walker Ranch Open Space.