Our View: County must avoid tunnel vision


— We hope Routt County officials are correct when they say water leaking into an underground tunnel at the new Routt County Justice Center is a "minor problem."

Given the history of the site, there is incentive for the county to try to gloss over the issue. After all, the county spent a lot of time, money and energy successfully persuading the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reverse course on its initial ruling that the justice center not be built adjacent to the Routt County Sheriff's Office because of significant wetlands issues.

The tunnel connects Routt County Jail - located in the Sheriff's Office - to the Justice Center so that inmates can be transported safely and securely to court. It is not clear what portion of the $13.4 million center's cost is attributable to the tunnel. What is clear is that the tunnel - whose proximity to the Yampa River means it essentially is submerged in water - is leaking. It leaks so much that gallons and gallons of water must be pumped from it each day.

"We are experiencing some seepage issues right now," said Tim Winter, the county's building and plant director. "There is some water down there right now, but the contractor's intent is to inject a hydro-type material that they're confident will seal off any leak."

"By the time we open this to the public," added construction manager Paul Barry, "no one will even know there was a water issue or that it's a tunnel completely submerged in water."

Winter said the leakage is the contractor's problem to fix, not the county's. Plans are for the project to be finished by fall. Let's hope that happens.

The fight to select the Justice Center site often was contentious. It became so heated at one point that a county official referred to Towny Anderson, who led a group that advocated building the center downtown, as a "terrorist." Anderson now is questioning the extent of the water-in-the-tunnel problem.

"To characterize this as a minimal problem is a concern," said Anderson, who now is a Steamboat Springs City Council member. "It's just as much an issue with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as it is with the county. The water flow is steady, not seasonal. It's a lot of water - it's not a minimal, moderate or low-quality wetland."

Certainly there is animus between Anderson and the county, but that should not interfere with the county's response to questions about the tunnel. The Pilot & Today has been asking questions about the tunnel for months and has not always gotten forthright responses.

We are not engineers and would not know how to begin to design a tunnel, much less one that will remain waterproof while submerged in water. But a tour of the Justice Center site reveals standing water being pumped out of the tunnel. Any reasonable person would raise the questions Anderson has.

Water was one of the risks of the site the county chose - that's why the wetlands permit from the Corps of Engineers was such a big deal. With that decision comes the responsibility for the county to explain how it's going to deal with this water problem and how much it's going to cost going forward.


Watcher 10 years, 3 months ago

When I first heard that there was to be a tunnel in the justice center I couldn't stop laughing. Now there is "a minor problem" of "some seepage" according to county officials. It is more a like a steady influx of water in the driest part of the year. I think the sheriff's office needs to invest in some scuba equipment.

Why an overpass, to transport prisoners safely, was not considered is beyond me. Now of course, since there is already an elevator in place to take the inmates from the tunnel to court, the county cannot loose face and admit it was wrong and just build an overpass.

I also don't think this is the contractor's problem. He is simply following the architect's drawing. The problem and the liability belongs to the county which accepted the drawings.


Otto_Stader 10 years, 3 months ago

This just gets better and better.

"Doucette's Folly" gets a tunnel of love. Perfect. Just add boats.


mkbar 10 years, 3 months ago

Unless the contractors got faulty geology reports from the county, stopping the leaks is their responsibility. I've worked for a company that does tunnels and shafts exclusively for a long time so I know that water leaks in ground like this are not unexpected. I'm not familiar with this particular contractor but I am sure he has provisions to stop the leaks. It is not difficult to seal the tunnel. It is not cheap either but the costs were, I'm sure, built in to his bid. I'm not familiar enough with Steamboat's attitudes or concerns to say whether or not the tunnel should have been constructed. It's just my opinion but the area is so beautiful I would hate to see an ugly, enclosed, secure overpass anywhere.


Hadleyburg_Press 10 years, 3 months ago

You guys are all wet! The design is perfect for what this massive tax and spend boondoggle really is, a DRAIN! I think I hear a flushing sound as we speak...


bolter 10 years, 3 months ago

Sometime in the future:

(Telephone ringing) brrring.......brrring (recorded voice on phone) This is the new Routt County Courthouse. We're really swamped right now...


id04sp 10 years, 3 months ago


Your comments on the beauty of the wetlands are apt. So why build a courthouse there to spoil it? Do you really think an overpass, or even a ground-level walkway, is going to harm a view already so viciously spoiled?

I have built on fill next to a stream. The foundation has to go down to the river rock to find solid ground, and when you go that deep, you get water. The combined brain power that resulted in this design somehow managed to ignore the facts, so now there's an expensive problem that will require remediation for the life of the facility -- which I give about ten years before the walls crack so badly they have to abandon the place.

As for the "geology report," well, I know of a guy who drilled 300 feet looking for well water and didn't find it, while his contractor drilling holes to pour concrete columns for the house 50 feet away stuck water six feet down.

What they really ought to do with this thing is clear the dirt off the top, put in an acrylic dome, reroute the stream and call it the "Yampa River-Quarium."


mkbar 10 years, 3 months ago

Why stop there? If it's ok to put up an ugly crosswalk because the views are already destroyed by the courthouse then it should be no problem to put up a Super Walmart and Lowes. Repeal the size limit on retailers and use the sales taxes generated to build the new 100' space needle so people can see over the "uglies". Of course if all of the engineers are as incompetent as you imply, it will soon be known as the Leaning Tower of Steamboat.
I wasn't taking sides. It was just a casual observation. My main point was to answer the question of whether or not it is the contractor's responsibility to construct a dry tunnel and whether or not it can be done. I still say the answer is yes to both.


id04sp 10 years, 2 months ago

I think a Lowe's, Home Depot and Super Wally would be great. The ol' " 'Boat " I fell in love with was really never as nice as she was attractive anyway.

Come on . . . wouldn't you like to see a Super Wally take the wind out of $#!++y Markup's sales (sic) anyway?

I live out of town, on purpose. I avoid Lincoln Ave except for a couple of places run by some very nice people.

The engineers are not incompetent. That would be the architects.

The builder's responsibility? Not necessarily. I'll bet there are some caveats in the contract that make the builder immune from liability for unknown subsoil conditions. It's the County's responsibiltiy for choosing a site that would flood. The builder is just putting up what they hired him to build. It would be one thing if the builder had spec'd the job and concealed the problem. This job was done for a customer that worked very hard to build in a flood zone.


Watcher 10 years, 2 months ago

The attorneys will have a blast with this one. They can make a whole lot of money while using the new justice center. I can it hear it now. "It's not my fault, I didn't do it, it's his responsibility, no it's his." While we the fine citizens of this here old county pay through the nose for the mess. But then I am just a little cynical.


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