KIRKWOOD (CBS13) — The largest mountain resort company in the country is in violation of the Federal Clean Water Act, according to a California state agency. Now, Kirkwood resort staff is in the process of cleaning up a mess made over the winter.
According to public documents from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, Kirkwood Ski Resort, which is owned by Vail Management Company, is being investigated for contaminating sensitive wetlands and the Kirkwood creek.
The investigation began in late April of this year after an anonymous complaint made its way to the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board. Investigators surveyed the area and found that over the winter, large piles of asphalt grindings had been dumped onto multiple parking lots at the Kirkwood resort. A common practice to provide traction when the snow piles up.
For 49 days, the Water Board says crews removed snow from parking lots with plows and blowers, thus spreading the asphalt material into places it shouldn’t be.
“It looked like a black snow field,” said Ryan Hanson, a Warden with the Department of Fish & Wildlife, “actually under that snow field is a running stream or a highly sensitive meadow area.”
Hanson is leading the team orchestrating the Kirkwood clean up after they were made aware of the asphalt grindings.
“Asphalt is a material that you cannot put in those areas,” said Hanson.
In May 2016, Kirkwood was notified that they were in violation of the Federal Clean Water Act as well as the California Water Code after an inspection from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.
“I don’t recall seeing anything like this in the past,” said Andrew Altevogt, the Asst. Exec. Officer with the Water Board.
He is part of the team overseeing the investigation. He says Kirkwood laid asphalt grindings on parking lots and streets within the resort to provide traction. During the winter months, Kirkwood staff used snow plows and blowers in those areas.
“The process of doing some of the snow removal in their parking lots, that asphalt got scattered,” said Altevogt.
Since being made aware of the violation, Kirkwood has done extensive clean by hand and with heavy machinery. Altevogt says they’ve collected roughly 700 cubic yards of material.
To put that number in perspective, it would take about 70 loads from a standard dump truck to equal that amount.
Surface and ground water quality are a main concern for Altevogt. He says the extent of the damage is unclear.
“[The discharge] has the potential to leach chemicals, petroleum chemicals specifically in to those streams wetlands and ground water,” said Altevogt.
Kirkwood is looking at maximum fines into the millions. A final penalty won’t be issued until the completion of the investigation and clean up. In the meantime, Kirkwood must complete the cleanup and restoration work, and provide a plan moving forward.
“If they have the same practice as they have the past couple of years, we’re going to be in the same problem this time next year,” said Hanson.
In a statement provided to CBS13 from Kirkwood management, the resort says they were made aware of the issue on May 6th and have since been “coordinating closely with the Water Quality Board and other agencies to implement immediate remedial actions.”