Pipeline Construction Southwest of Longmont Renews Resident Frustration Over Proximity to Bald Eagle Nest

September 29, 2018

Larry Scripter walks his property on North 73rd Street on Wednesday. Scripter and his neighbors are worried the South Water Supply Project pipeline will impact bald eagles who return each year during the winter breeding season.

Anger resurfaced in residents just southwest of Longmont last month when work began on a new 20-mile, $44 million steel pipeline meant to improve water quality for four water providers in Boulder and Larimer counties.

The route chosen for the project, known as phase two of the South Water Supply Project, through a planning process that started in 2011 has for years frustrated Larry Scripter and his neighbors.

Scripter, a resident of North 73rd Street just south of Lagerman Reservoir, and several of his neighbors opposed the pipeline route currently being laid because of its impacts to their properties and its location directly under a bald eagle nest to which he says the raptors return annually for breeding season in the winter. They believe the project would have made a smaller impact if it ran on more Boulder County open space.

The project is being overseen by Northern Water during construction and will replace the open, above-ground Boulder Feeder Canal for bringing Colorado-Big Thompson water from Carter Lake in Larimer County to the town of Berthoud, Left Hand and Longs Peak Water districts, southwest and north of Longmont, respectively, and the city of Boulder. The municipalities and districts are funding the project, with Boulder bearing the $32 million brunt of the cost since it is receiving most of the pipeline’s water.

The current pipeline route through the area was suggested and approved by Boulder County partially because it has less impact on the Lagerman Reservoir Open Space property than three alternative alignments pitched during the planning process, according to county staff.

County officials wanted to protect land they describe as alkaline wetlands surrounding Lagerman Reservoir from being dug up to bury the pipeline.

But Scripter contends a different route to Left Hand Water District’s Dodd Treatment Plant at 6800 Nimbus Road should have been taken because the current one likely came with added cost and traffic impacts.

He also is worried the removal of willow shrubs directly under the eagle nest in a tree along Holland Ditch — which the pipeline parallels south of Lagerman Reservoir — just west of 73rd Street will be noticed and disliked by the birds, possibly motivating them to relocate.

“The habitat under the eagle’s nest was thereby destroyed. How will that affect the nesting eagles?” Scripter asked.

The pipeline will run parallel to 75th Street on the road’s east side until cutting west at Plateau Road to run onto the southern part of Scripter’s property along the Holland Ditch and under the eagle nest adjacent to the ditch. It then juts south to the Left Hand facility. The section of pipe directly under the eagle nest has already been buried.

“The removal of undergrowth below the nest tree, outside of nesting season, would generally fall under the things that would be less risky in terms of causing a lasting impact on the birds nesting there,” Bird Conservancy of the Rockies outreach biologist Matt Smith said. “It’s not without some risk that they could be impacted, but I would say it’s on the lower end of that spectrum that could be causing problems.”

All four routes explored for the pipeline for the first 12 miles from Carter Lake would have run alongside the original South Water Supply project that delivers water to Broomfield, but the three alternatives to the one being laid would have avoided running along Holland Ditch and directly underneath the eagle nest.

Construction on the project began last month with the intent of having crews more than a half-mile from the eagle nest by Oct. 15, the date the Colorado Division of Wildlife recommends for restricting human encroachment on nests.

Costs for each alternative route were not estimated before the current one was chosen, said Northern Water public information coordinator Jeff Stahla, but the amount paid to private property owners impacted by the pipeline project totaled about $600,000.

Scripter said he was paid $80,000, but claims he told officials he would let the pipeline run through his property further to the north for free so 75th and 73rd streets would be less impacted and the eagle nest could potentially be avoided.

Running the pipeline to the west through Boulder County open space closer to Lagerman Reservoir was the route Left Hand Water District Manager Christopher Smith expected for selection.

“We were really surprised. It wasn’t something that made a lot of sense to me, because you could avoid a lot of issues with impacting public and transportation, but also (the route through open space) protected the pipeline from future development or road widening,” Smith said. “It seemed like a safer, more direct, less impactful route.”

Officials highlighted the benefits of the pipeline when construction started last month, and it is still running through Boulder County open space in other areas, requiring a trail paved in the last several years on county-owned land to be ripped up and replaced.

“We’re feeling the impacts of it, too,” Boulder County Parks and Open Space senior planner Ernst Strenge said.

About a week-long road closure on North 75th and North 73rd streets between Pike and Nimbus roads will occur late next month for the pipeline to be buried under the road, and the contractor will have to repave and restripe any asphalt disturbed, Boulder County Transportation Department spokesman Andrew Barth said.

Local access will be maintained to smaller residential roads within the closure area, but residents of Deerfield Road will need to enter from the north, while residents of Alpenglow Court, Goose Point Court, and a few private driveways will need to enter the area from the south.

Sam Lounsberry: 303-473-1322, slounsberry@prairiemountainmedia.com and twitter.com/samlounz .

Update hourly