Our View: County must avoid tunnel vision | SteamboatToday.com

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.

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