Colorado River furniture cleanup drifting along nicely so far
Thursday Ben Cartwright, co-owner of Environmentally Friendly Services, and river guide Jesse Mead were on the Colorado River in Mead’s drift boat. The two floated from Grizzly Creek to Glenwood Springs pulling out debris on the south, or train track, side of the river.
Since the majority of EFS’s restoration business centers on fires and floods and not river wrecks, Cartwright contracted Mead for this job.
More than a month ago, a tractor-trailer truck veered off I-70 in Glenwood Canyon between No Name and Grizzly Creek, and landed in the Colorado River, killing truck driver James Cardell Davis II. The wreck spewed the truck’s contents into the river.
Cartwright said that by the end of Thursday’s trip, Mead’s drift boat was loaded to the gunwales.
“We pulled out a lot of waterlogged pieces of oak and plywood,” he said. “Some of those pieces weighed 50 to 60 pounds.”
Cartwright said, for the time being, EFS is only authorized to clean up the south side of the river.
“CDOT has jurisdiction on the strip of land between I-70 and the river on the north side,” said Cartwright, “so we have to be permitted in order to bring in four-wheelers and other equipment to clean up that side.”
Cartwright said he’s applied for the necessary permits, and should get authorization to proceed with his work in a week. He anticipates seven or eight staff will work on the project for a total of two weeks.
“I didn’t think it would take us that long at first, but we’re facing some tricky logistics,” he said. Sections where the river and I-70 separate, such as the tunnels by No Name, will prove difficult for workers.
“One of those waterlogged wooden drawers can weigh 30 pounds,” he said. “Getting those out of the river with no road access is going to be tough.”
The north side of the river is where most of the wreckage has settled. There are still plenty of cardboard boxes, strips of wood with nails protruding through, chunks of mirror and wooden dresser drawers caught up in eddies, wedged between boulders and lapping against riverbanks from the Oct. 6 accident.
A pile of broken-up furniture, metal rods, foam and pieces of plywood still sit along the riverbank less than a mile from the crash site. Further downstream, a giant cardboard box sits upside-down with “Up Furniture” printed on it, a black arrow pointing the wrong way.
Wooden drawers sticking out of greenish-beige Colorado River water sit half-submerged, as the sound of giant semi-trucks downshifting on the interstate above mesh with the roar of shallow rapids nearby.
Clean-up efforts in general have been mired in “red tape,” Cartwright said. First, there was the question of who was in charge of cleaning up the truck wreck site.
“Kevin Ward cleaned that up,” said Cartwright. Ward, owner of Blaine Ward Towing, towed the tractor-trailer wreckage out of the river.
All that’s left now at the site are tiny balls of windshield safety glass, small chunks of mirror, and bits of fiberglass.
Next, there were questions about who was responsible for the long thread of wreckage that has floated downstream.
“Between the trucking company’s insurance and the cargo company’s insurance, nobody wanted to take responsibility. So I said we’d go clean it up, and worry about the money later,” Cartwright said.
Cartwright said EFS is going more than 20 miles downriver to check for wreckage.
“We’re going from the crash site to New Castle,” Cartwright said of EFS’s clean-up efforts. “We’ll also check as far down as Rifle to make sure there’s no other debris that’s slipped past.”
Cartwright said he’s been really pleased with the willingness of local businesses to help with the effort.
“Summit Canyon gave us discounts on climbing harnesses, helmets and other equipment we need for this job,” he said. “And the guys from Colorado Canoe and Kayak came down to the river with us, and suggested useful gear, like 100 percent waterproof kayak jackets and gloves that are helping us pull debris submerged in the river.”
Cartwright is hopeful weather conditions will work for them until EFS gets CDOT approval to finish the clean-up.
“We’re OK as long as the river doesn’t freeze,” he said. “Right now is our window of opportunity, with water levels low and weather good.”
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