Sand-sucking project 'dismal failure'

Company promised to suck 1,100 cubic yards from Black Gore Creek, only managed 40

A crew working in Black Gore Creek this fall removed only a fraction of the sand it had planned to dig out of the polluted Vail Pass stream.
Shane Macomber/Daily file photo
Photo by Shane Macomber/Daily file photo


Nicole Frey
November 23, 2005

MINTURN - Who expects sticks in a beaver pond?

During a September project that removed harmful highway sand from Black Gore Creek, sticks were one of the biggest obstacles that prevented Streamside Systems from finishing the job.

Even though Streamside Systems planned to dig 1,100 cubic yards of sand from Black Gore Creek in October, only 40 cubic yards were removed.


Photo by Shane Macomber/Vail Daily
Altitude and cold weather may have hampered equipment used to remove sand from Black Gore Creek. A crew should return in July, when the machinery wonít freeze.
Shane Macomber/Vail Daily

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"The watershed council takes full responsibility for this ... dismal failure," Eagle River Watershed Council director Caroline Bradford said during a recent Black Gore Creek Steering Committee meeting. "We don't have too many failures."

But Eagle County's environmental director Ray Merry disagreed, saying he saw potential for the project.

"You have to try something," he said. "Don't give up on it."

In addition to the sticks, Streamside Systems president Randall Tucker said the September weather caused his pipes and pumps to freeze. U.S. Forest Service district ranger Cal Wettstein said the project was underpowered.

Tucker said he's done similar projects, but has never worked at as high as altitude, which also hampered his work.

Sand dwellers

Tucker and his team of about six men where supposed to remove a batch of the sand that is smothering the life out the river. The sand, which now stands several feet deep in some stretches, is leftover from road construction, erosion and the de-icing formulas poured on Interstate 70.


Photo by Shane Macomber/Vail Daily
De-icing sand spilling from I-70 is choking off Black Gore Creek, which flows down Vail Pass into Gore Creek and Vail Village.
Shane Macomber/Vail Daily

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The mass quantities of sand in the water led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to classify Black Gore Creek an "impaired" stream in 2002.

if the sand isn't removed, the stream's ecosystem will change, attracting sand-dwelling bugs and pushing out the gravel beds, said Bill Carlson, the environmental health officer and planner for the town of Vail, which has helped fund cleanup projects in recent years.

The sand-resistant bugs may push out the fish that rely on different insects for food, Carlson said.

Trying to avoid an ecological disaster, the watershed council paid Streamside Systems half their fee – $18,000 – for the week they spent on the pass during the fall. The company will receive the other half when the project is completed, Bradford said.

Hope for the failure

Although the project didn't go as planned, Bradford and others involved, like river engineer Jason Carey, remain hopeful.

"A dismal failure would mean it's infeasible, and it's not," said Carey, a consultant for the watershed council. "There are kinks that need to be worked out, but I don't think it was really that bad. It was just an issue of the contractor not living up to his claims."


Photo by Shane Macomber/Vail Daily
Jason Beach and Kevin Beach of Streamside Systems remove sand from Vail Passí Black Gore Creek in early October.
Shane Macomber/Vail Daily

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And Tucker said he is determined to make good on his contract, though he debated that 1,100 cubic feet of sand even exists in the stretch of creek where he's working.

"We're going to get what needs to come out, but I don't know what the total is going to be," he said. "It didn't go as planned, but now we're ready to deal with it in the spring."

Bradford said Tucker plans to return in July - when his equipment won't freeze - with improved technology to handle the sticks.

"They are confident they can deal with these problems, and we have high hopes that they can fix their problems so they can do what they were designed to do," Bradford said. "We think it can work."

Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or

Vail, Colorado