A plan for protecting the archaeological sites around Lake Nighthorse when it opens to the public and during development was approved Tuesday by the Durango City Council.
Councilor Dick White praised the plan, in part, because it brings the city a step closer to opening the lake.
“This was a big undertaking and we’re pleased,” said Ernest Rheaume, an archaeologist with the Bureau of Reclamation.
The lake may open in 2018 after construction and legal agreements are complete, Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz said.
The plan went into effect in May when the Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado State Historic Preservation Officer signed documents, a programmatic agreement and Cultural Resource Management Plan. The city was asked to sign it because it will manage recreation at the lake.
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Animas La Plata Operation, Maintenance and Replacement Association are also expected to sign the agreement.
The council unanimously approved the agreement and plan, one of two final legal steps necessary before the lake is opened to the public. An annexation agreement is being developed.
As part of the recently approved agreement, when the city develops new areas, the Bureau of Reclamation must consult with the Colorado State Historic Preservation officer and Native American tribes. The consultation process will likely apply to the city’s planned swim beach, natural surface trails, camping and picnic areas that may be built after the lake is open. “I don’t think it would be an unreasonable delay,” Metz said of the consultation process.
As part of the agreement, the city can maintain roads, buildings and other facilities in areas that have been developed without a consultation.
The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is reviewing the programmatic agreement and management plan, said the tribe’s attorney Peter Ortego.
The tribe would like to be a signatory on the document instead of a concurring party because it would give the tribe greater authority to ask for the document to be amended in the future, he said.
The tribe also has concerns because while the cultural resources management plan is standard, the resources around Lake Nighthorse are extraordinary and vulnerable.
“I think we are going to be watching very, very carefully how this goes,” Ortego said.
As part of managing the archaeological site, the Bureau of Reclamation plans a 120-day review of the documentation to determine how many sites it will monitor, Rheaume said. There are more than 100 sites near the lake.
Reclamation archaeologists expect to visit 20 percent of known cultural resource sites within the Animas La Plata Ridges Basin Area each year for five years to gather baseline data about the condition of the sites, the plan states.
The plan states that the “primary impacts to sites are anticipated to be from recreation, wave action, operations, maintenance, and construction activities that include road, fence, trail, boat ramp, and campground construction.”
It is possible that more sites will be discovered and public education materials will be distributed to educate the public on reporting new archaeological discoveries, the plan states.
The city is expected to notify Bureau of Reclamation archaeologists immediately when a discovery is made, the plan states.
If an historic site can be saved from destruction or alteration, the Bureau of Reclamation will preserve the property and require temporary fencing and monitor sites if development comes closer than 50 feet.
The Bureau is working on additional survey work for the annexation because the city requested it.
In preparation for the lake opening, the Bureau of Reclamation’s contractor is finishing a mussel inspection and decontamination station this summer. The federal agency paid for the $890,000 project.
The city is preparing to build an overflow parking lot that will go through the consultation process required by the recently signed agreement.
The city also plans to chip seal the road from County Road 210 to the boat ramp and put in a boat dock.