Jessica Berg: Proposed Whistler School would harm neighborhoods, wildlife, waterways
Natural beauty, open space and proximity to wildlife are key reasons we live in Steamboat Springs. As we choose how and where to educate our kids, we must also consider impacts to our wildlife, wetlands and waterways.
The Steamboat Springs School District’s Community Survey, conducted in January 2019, found, ”When asked where new elementary or middle schools should be built, voters favored new schools be built on parcels near future housing developments (62%) over building on parcels in or near existing neighborhoods (38%).”
The district’s small Whistler parcel is located in the middle of well-established neighborhoods. The park and adjacent open space, enjoyed by countless residents, is also part of one of the narrowest elk migration corridors in the valley, between Mount Werner and Emerald Mountain. When such key corridors are narrowed or blocked by increasing development, it limits elk survival options.
The More parcel, which the district proposes purchasing from Mount Werner Water for this possible school site, is a true wetland and rich riparian area on Walton Creek and was purchased by Mount Werner Water as a future water infiltration gallery. The slow seep of snowmelt and rainwater through Whistler currently feeds Walton Creek, and ultimately, the Yampa. We rely on this process to ensure the health of our waterways, our cherished wetland species and our drinking water.
The impervious footprint — up to 90,000 plus square feet — of this proposed school, in addition to parking lots and access roads, means fast-flowing, fossil fuel-tainted runoff would replace the historically natural slow seep of groundwater water entering Walton Creek.
A recent traffic study reveals a new school at Whistler would result in 897 vehicles per day, choking our network of busy neighborhood roads during peak travel and ski times, bringing noise, lights and pollution that would forever alter this habitat for animals and residents.
Whistler also provides one of the last open areas on the mountain. Steamboat’s own Open Space Master Plan (2008) found “protection of environmental resources” and “providing large parcels of open space and natural areas” were among the top five concerns of residents.
Whistler is just too small at 9.2 acres to allow for flexibility and future growth. Building on the Barber property/hay meadow portion of the much larger, 70-acre Steamboat II site makes more sense for our kids, our community and our values.
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