SUMMIT COUNTY " Denver Water officials on Tuesday abruptly closed Dillon Dam Road indefinitely due to security concerns.
"We are not aware of an imminent threat," said Denver water commissioner Penfield Tate. "But in the last several months, we've grown far more concerned about the vulnerability of the dam and the potential for catastrophic consequences downstream if the dam were targeted."
The closure drew immediate fire from local officials, who were not given any advance warning.
"The way they've gone about this pisses me off," said Summit County Commissioner Tom Long.
The Dam Road is one of only three east-west byways in the county, and the Summit County Sheriff's Office estimates 8,500 vehicles travel across the road each day.
"We understand that the closure will inconvenience motorists in Summit County," Tate said. "However, we have concluded that the grave danger presented by a dam failure outweighs the disruption to travelers."
An agreement drafted with the county in 1974 allows Denver Water to halt traffic on the road during an emergency.
Local officials indicated that the move apparently is based on information that Denver Water received from undisclosed state and federal agencies over the vulnerability of earthen dams in general.
"They can't name an imminent threat, so we can't understand why we're not involved in the decision," Long said. "They haven't shared any information with local law enforcement. We're kind of in the dark."
Local-government officials issued a joint press release Tuesday evening excoriating what they considered to be a unilateral move by Denver Water.
"It is of particular concern ... that this new information has not been released to any local law-enforcement agency in the county," the officials wrote. "While Denver Water has promised to provide information to support its decision, that has not yet taken place."
The Dillon Reservoir is owned and operated by Denver Water and serves as a primary water source for Denver's drinking supply.
If the dam ever was compromised, it would release as much as 245,000 acre-feet of water towards Silverthorne, affecting hundreds of homes, businesses and Interstate 70.
Security of water supplies and dams has been the subject of increased scrutiny since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and a perceived threat on the Dam Road in early January prompted Denver Water to close the road for five days and increase security.
In the last seven years, Denver Water has spent more than $10 million enhancing the safety and security of its facilities statewide.
Changes at the Dillon Reservoir have included fencing, barriers, video surveillance and, most recently, a 24-hour security guard.
"Having exhausted other options and still being uncomfortable with the level of risk, we consider road closure the action necessary to best protect the residents of Summit County as well as the water supply," Tate said.
Local officials indicated they are considering legal options to keep the road open.
"It's like getting whacked between the eyes, it was so quickly thrust upon us," said Summit County manager Gary Martinez. "We now have our attorneys looking at all the documents."
Although Denver Water general manager Chips Barry last week called a meeting with local officials for 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Lake Dillon Fire Chief Dave Parmley learned about the closure from a Denver television station later in the day.
"It's disrespectful, and it's unacceptable," Parlmey said. "Obviously it has a very adverse and negative impact on public safety...This is just as if they shut down a section of Speer Boulevard. The Denver Fire Department would have something to say about that."
Sheriff John Minor summed up his feelings toward the closure with a single unprintable word, adding that the road is a frequent emergency-response route.
State Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Summit Cove, blasted the lack of advance notification, calling the move by Denver Water "arrogant and high-handed."
"I find it inexcusable that Denver Water did not notify us as state officials, and they did not talk to police, fire or ambulance," she said.
Some public-access roads across dams in other parts of the country " New York and California, for example " also have been closed due to security concerns.
Officials at Denver Water say an alternate road connecting the two sides of the reservoir without crossing over the top of the dam may be the best long-term solution.
The organization has hired an engineering firm to consider potential alternate roads, and are initiating discussions with local jurisdictions.
The bike path across the dam will remain open, according to Denver Water officials.
Ashley Dickson can be reached at (970) 668-4629 or firstname.lastname@example.org.