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EPA Veto of Dam Relieves Town That Would Be Flooded

September 5, 1989

DECKERS, Colo. (AP) _ A riverside community that would be flooded for a Denver reservoir if plans go ahead for a 615-foot-high dam reacted with disbelief when an Environmental Protection Agency review blasted the project.

″I kind of halfway sat there stunned,″ said Fannie Roth, 70, who has been battling the Two Forks project for 17 years.

″I was hoping it was true - it numbed me that it really, really was not going to be built,″ Roth said in an interview in the home she built among the pines above the South Fork of the South Platte River.

If Two Forks were built, her home ″would be under approximately 300 feet of water - if they ever had the water to fill it,″ Roth said.

Lee DeHihns, an EPA deputy regional administrator from Atlanta who was assigned to review the project, announced Aug. 29 that the agency would press on with a veto process begun last March by EPA administrator William Reilly. A two-month public hearing period is the next step, followed by a final decision by EPA administrators in Washington, D.C.

DeHihns said his five-month review concluded that the Denver metropolitan area’s future water needs did not warrant the environmental toll of the proposed $500 million to $1 billion project.

The dam would be located 25 miles southwest of Denver near the confluence of the South Platte River and its North Fork. Besides flooding Deckers, the project would inundate scenic canyon lands and 30 miles of stream known for prized trout, and it would damage wildlife habitat in Nebraska, the EPA said.

Deckers, a community of 180 people, lies 50 miles southwest of Denver over winding country roads. Visitors who brave a 10-mile stretch of narrow, teeth- chattering washboard road with second-gear hairpin turns, steep grades and washouts are mostly attracted by the South Fork’s legendary trout fishing.

After the Denver Water Board and 42 metropolitan-area water providers proposed the dam, many homeowners panicked and sold their property to the board, diminishing the community’s tax resources for road maintenance and law enforcement. Also, residents found their telephone service was not updated over the years, because it was assumed the entire exchange would be flooded.

″The people that are still landowners here, you can rest assured, didn’t want the dam. I worked a lifetime for what I own here. I want to continue living here until I die,″ said Roth, who moved to Deckers in 1953 after retiring as a Denver Public Schools bus driver and stays busy with carpentry, bowling and pitching horseshoes.

She and her neighbors say they will attempt to obtain protection for the South Platte under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act with the help of the Washington-based American Rivers organization.

″I’m glad the EPA said no,″ said Shirley Childs, a clerk at the Deckers general store and a 25-year resident of the area. ″I’ll pray to God they continue saying no.″

The veto decision came as a relief to Al Barnes, who has been visiting or living in the area for 35 years.

His wife, Mary, said the EPA is ″finally going to look at things like this - and protect some of this country.

″We are elated the EPA stuck to its guns,″ Mrs. Barnes said. ″Number one, this is our home, the thing I went through several wars for and the dream of a home in the mountains - so my great grandchildren can come up here and enjoy the clean air and the water and the wildlife.″

The Barnes’ home, looking across the South Fork at Long Scraggy Peak, was a three-room cabin that they added a second floor to when he retired from the Air Force missile development program six years ago.

Despite the long battle with the Denver Water Board to stop Two Forks, Roth and the Barnes said the conflict has been amicable in recent years.

″The Big Stick time was in the ’60s, when it was ’We’re the Denver Water Board and by God ...‴ Barnes recalled.

″But the new water board has been in the ’80s, since Mayor (Federico) Pena came to office. Since then, the whole context of the water board has mellowed down,″ said Mrs. Barnes.