DENVER — The Colorado Natural Resources Trustees approved a settlement with Vail Corporation in connection with a snowmaking system that discharged into nearby creeks in 2021 and caused a large fish kill.
The settlement was for $275,000.
Based on a six-month investigation, state investigators found that between Sept. 17-20, 2021, Vail Mountain left isolation valves open on its snowmaking system, which allowed the release of about two million gallons of a mix of water and hazardous substances. It discharged into Mill Creek and Gore Creek through Vail. About 1.5 miles of river were impacted, including the fish, algae and aquatic insects that called it home.
On Sept. 21, representatives from the Town of Vail and Colorado Parks and Wildlife said Mill Creek had been visibly impacted by a blue-gray color, as reported by The Vail Daily. The newspaper said that day, CPW officials took water samples and counted about 120 dead fish.
In its investigation, the state found that Vail Corporations had violated provisions of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, the Colorado Water Quality Control Act and the Colorado Wildlife Code with this incident.
According to the settlement, Vail Mountain did not admit to any of the allegations against it. To resolve all claims the state could bring against Vail, all involved parties agreed to the terms of the settlement, which said that most of the funds — $248,660 of the $275,000 — will be deposited in the CDPHE's Natural Resources Damages Fund and will support a restoration project in the Gore Creek Basin. The other $26,340 will go to the state’s Water Quality Improvement Fund.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, who serves as chair of the Colorado Natural Resources Trustees, said the settlement compensates the community for the harm to the aquatic resources in the Gore Creek, which is one of Colorado's prized trout fisheries. The settlement funds will help restore those natural resources downstream of the release, Weiser said.
Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said he appreciates Vail Corporation's willingness to work on the settlement and to fix the damage.
"Colorado’s fisheries and aquatic resources are some of our state’s most important resources but also can be susceptible to harm where water resources are paramount,” he said. “I am hopeful the settlement funds can quickly be put to use to restore Gore Creek and its fisheries and aquatic species for future generations of Coloradans to enjoy.”
Vail Mountain released the below statement on the settlement:
Vail Mountain partnered with State agencies throughout this process, which included immediate measures to prevent future unintended discharges of potable water. As a part of our commitment to our natural environment, we fully cooperated with State agencies and reached an amicable resolution with the State that will fund restoration and improvement projects to waterways, including the Gore Creek Basin. We take our commitment to the environment seriously, and we are dedicated to protecting the forests and waterways that surround our resort operation.