Dillon officials voice concern over lack of say in fire restriction decisions

A sign pictured in August 2019 on North Main Street in Breckenridge shows that fire restrictions are in effect. The Dillon Town Council expressed concerns over the processes behind countywide fire restrictions during a work session Tuesday, July 6.
Photo by Liz Copan / Summit Daily archives

Dillon officials voiced frustration with Summit County this week about how cooperative efforts to implement fire restrictions in the area have played out this year.

The Dillon Town Council discussed the issue during a broader conversation about an amended intergovernmental agreement between Summit County, Dillon and other municipalities around the county during a work session Tuesday, July 6.

In 2019, Summit County and local towns entered into an intergovernmental agreement regarding the implementation of fire restrictions. The document — approved by Summit County, Blue River, Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco, Montezuma and Silverthorne — established normalized language for restrictions across each jurisdiction and outlined a set of criteria for when the restrictions would go into effect. The idea was to create more consistency so visitors and residents wouldn’t have to memorize different restrictions in different towns, and the effort to establish restrictions in tandem was meant to simplify public messaging efforts.

This year, Summit County proposed a few amendments to the agreement, including requiring a spark arrester for chain saw use during Stage 1 or 2 restrictions, requiring a permit for backyard campfires during Stage 1 and allowing the sale of firewood and charcoal during Stage 2.

But Dillon officials were hesitant to sign the new agreement, in large part because the group as a whole was left disillusioned at the idea of a “spirit of cooperation” after the county declined to enact Stage 1 restrictions following the ignition of the Straight Creek Fire on June 10 about 2 miles east of Dillon.

“I do agree … that it is great that we have a unified message,” Town Manager Nathan Johnson said. “I think that helps, especially with fire restrictions. But it’s not a good feeling being a town manager and knowing that things are being pushed down from the county level to where if we give input they just completely ignore us or challenge our thought process. That’s what they did with the Straight Creek Fire.”

The intergovernmental agreement doesn’t preclude any of the signers from acting autonomously, and Dillon, Silverthorne and Frisco all enacted Stage 1 fire restrictions June 11. Summit County didn’t implement any restrictions until a week later on June 18.

Johnson also expressed concerns about returning to Stage 1 restrictions Friday, July 9, as the county is planning.

“We don’t meet all the criteria to go to Stage 1, and if you look at the forecast moving forward, it’s hot and dry,” Johnson said. “So why are we going to Stage 1? … I like to look at this as a road. It should be a two-way street, coming and going. And right now it’s more of a one-lane road where they’re just going to push it on us.”

Both Johnson and Dillon Police Chief Cale Osborn confirmed Wednesday that Dillon would return to Stage 1 fire restrictions with the county later this week. But the town hasn’t signed the amended intergovernmental agreement.

Dillon officials agreed that it made sense for all of the county’s governments to have the same language in their restrictions, but Dillon Town Council members said they wanted to make changes to the agreement before signing. Among discussed changes, the council wants each town to have a bigger say in any amendments to the agreement and voiced that there should be meetings between all the governments when changes to restriction levels are proposed.

“I’d like to see something like if any of the entities involved have a serious concern that a meeting must be convened with all members,” Dillon Mayor Carolyn Skowyra said. “In the spirit of cooperation, we should be willing to cooperate and have a discussion about where we’re going.”

County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said the Summit Board of County Commissioners didn’t hear from any Dillon Town Council members prior to the town enacting Stage 1 restrictions in June and that the board ultimately decided to wait to enact its own fire restrictions until the data supported the move. The intergovernmental agreement lays out a set of criteria for entering restrictions, which deal with the energy release component, likelihood for human-caused fires, fuel moisture thresholds and weather patterns.

County Manager Scott Vargo said the restriction criteria were widely accepted within the county and region.

“There’s a pretty straightforward set of criteria that are being used, and it’s the same criteria the Forest Service is using,” Vargo said. “It’s backed by a lot of years of science and research, and it’s endorsed by local fire officials, the Forest Service fire folks and the sheriff. That’s the kind of information we want to rely on because it’s as objective as you can get as it relates to this, and it provides still some flexibility based on the amount of visitation we’re seeing, the resource demand there might be within the region or state.”

Still, both Lawrence and Vargo said if there are concerns about the process, the county would work with the towns to ensure everyone is on the same page and comfortable with the how it works.

“It’s certainly important to hear and something we can do a better job of working with our towns on,” Lawrence said. “… It sounds to me like we probably have to have a robust town hall to go over fire restrictions with all of our towns and all of those elected officials because those do change.”

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