River’s cleanup brings cold comfort
It might have been a typically cold late fall day Tuesday, but for Ben Cartwright and Zeb Hamby, it was downright bone-chilling.
It took about 15 minutes for Cartwright, owner of Environmentally Friendly Services, and crew member Hamby to don chest-high waders, kayak paddling jackets, neoprene gloves, hats, helmets and life jackets before wading into the frigid Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon between No Name and Grizzly Creek.
They’re not part of a stunt to see how cold a human can get. They’re collecting debris left in the river from an Oct. 6 semi-truck accident.
Cartwright, Hamby and Philip Nance from EFS have been working to remove debris left in the river after the tractor-trailer veered off Interstate 70, killing driver James Cardell Davis II, and spewing dozens of pieces of furniture into the river.
“We take turns getting into the water,” explained Nance. He was the self-described “garbage dragger” Tuesday, carrying debris the other two men retrieved from the river and carting it up to Cartwright’s pickup truck, parked on the canyon bike path above.
“If we didn’t switch off, we’d freeze to death,” added Cartwright. “This kind of work takes patience and effort. It also takes a desire to get really cold.”
EFS has removed furniture, cardboard, and other debris from the wreck in stages. The crew started at the crash site on the south side of the river and cleaned up debris downstream to New Castle. EFS has already cleaned up debris on the north side from Two Rivers Park in Glenwood to New Castle.
The last remaining river section to be cleared is the north bank between Grizzly Creek and Two Rivers Park. The EFS crew has had to wait to clean up this final section since it needed to get the necessary permits because CDOT administers the land from I-70 to the river. The crew expects to be working on that section for the next two weeks.
Part of the CDOT permit process included getting the proper signage and hiring two flaggers – Debbie Johnson and Vicky Brown – to be stationed on the bike path at either ends of the job site. As of early Tuesday afternoon, Johnson said she had flagged one cyclist past the job.
Tuesday, the process was tedious and difficult.
First, while Nance stood on the riverbank ready to pull debris out of the water and to the awaiting truck, Cartwright positioned himself with a life line attached by harnesses to Hamby. The 6-foot-1 Hamby entered the water and walked out to the middle of the river to retrieve a waterlogged piece of particle board, lodged by the current against big river rocks.
“It feels like climbing in the dark,” said Cartwright of stepping into the cold, murky water and groping for footing along the river bottom. Cartwright said when his feet get so cold he can’t feel them, it’s especially tough to walk steadily.
Wrangling debris in the middle of Colorado River current isn’t easy either. But he’s not complaining.
“I remember seeing all of this debris in the river back in October,” he said. “This is the first time EFS has done this kind of cleanup – we usually do fire and flood restoration – but when I saw this mess, I knew I wanted EFS to clean it up.”
Cartwright said he and his crew have done all the work themselves, hiring drift boat guide Jesse Mead when necessary. They turned away offers from the U.S. Forest Service to provide search and rescue crews.
“I didn’t want taxpayers spending more money than necessary on this cleanup when we can do this work ourselves,” Cartwright said. “We’re taking all safety precautions to be able to do this kind of work.”
Cartwright said White River National Forest staff have been “super helpful” in the cleanup efforts.
“The accident occurred on Forest Service property,” he said, “but they’re not responsible for this cleanup. The trucking company is.”
And although Cartwright hasn’t billed Bowtie Express for the final cleanup bill, estimated at $6,000 to $8,000, he’s not worried about getting paid for his efforts.
“The trucking company will pay,” he said. “Right now they’re just hoping their insurance will come through and cover it.”
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.