John Spezia: Courthouse location and wetlands

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In a previous letter to the editor, there was a question about whether the courthouse wetlands were natural or artificial.

Historically, the river channel and its path went through the wetlands on the proposed courthouse location west of downtown before a man-made structure was built. The berm put up for the sewage treatment lagoon cut the river off and the historical river path was left as wetland instead of the river channel. The sewage-treatment lagoon did not create the wetlands but rather redirected the river away from its flood plain wetland and channel.

What does another couple of acres of wetlands lost mean? That question has been repeated in every city of every county in Colorado, thousands of times, every year for the past couple of centuries.

If one looks at each situation where wetlands have been destroyed, it appears insignificant. But, if you add up each time a wetland is destroyed, we are talking about many thousands of acres of wetlands that are filled in each year. And remember, this has been going on since the beginning of Colorado's development -- more than 200 years.

Only 1 percent of Colorado is wetland-riparian-river environment. Without the functions and services of these wetland-riparian-river environments there would be no free flood control, little water, few aquifers, no late summer water flowing, no natural irrigation, no nutrient transfers, no wildlife habitat dependent on water, no spring runoff absorption, no flood plain fertilization, no cottonwood forests, etc. To physically and financially reproduce these services on the Yampa River alone would cost billions of dollars. This would not include the cost of maintenance nor would they be sustainable or durable structures.

As of this date, more than half of all wetlands in the nation and Colorado have been destroyed. We are destroying them 1 or 2 acres at a time and ignoring the piece-meal cumulative effects of all these projects. The proposed justice center site west of downtown is a prime example.

When the Army Corps of Engineers reviews a permit to fill in and destroy wetlands, they look for all the other alternatives that avoid destruction of the wetlands. In this case, there is another alternative that harms no wetlands: locating the new center downtown next to the other county facilities. The county owns the land, and the site plan and building design have been completed.

This courthouse decision is all about location -- the location that does not destroy wetlands and the functions of a healthy Yampa River environment.

It's time to do the right thing for our community, the wetlands, the Yampa River and our future.

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