Dam road reopened to traffic | SummitDaily.com

Dam road reopened to traffic

K.J. Hascall
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

Denver Water officials reopened the Dillon Dam Road Friday afternoon, relenting to public outcry in Summit County and pressure from local officials.

Under an agreement struck with local officials Friday, the utility will close the road each night and prohibit trucks and large vehicles on the half-mile-long dam for stronger security.

A line of cars waited for the gates to be opened by dozens of law-enforcement officials. Motorists and motorcyclists drove across the road with glee, honking their horns, stabbing the sky with their fists and jubilantly shouting their approval.

“About two weeks ago, we stood in this same place to tell [the public] we would work tirelessly to reopen the road,” said Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson. “This is the first step. Relatively speaking, to get this done in less than three weeks with an entity like Denver Water is truly a success.”

Davidson added that he didn’t think the road should have been closed in the first place, but he is proud of the way county officials conducted themselves.

“It is a triumph whenever you’ve got an entity as small as Summit County and you’re dealing with something like Denver Water, an entity that serves millions.”

Under what was called a “short-term agreement,” the road will be closed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily, and traffic will be limited to passenger vehicles and pickup trucks.

Emergency vehicles will have 24-hour access and may have remotes to control the gates.

For the next 30 days, officers will monitor both sides of the road, and eventually a gate of some kind will be installed to make sure that only vehicles smaller than 13,000 pounds may pass.

Larger trucks, RVs and commercial vehicles will be barred, in a nod toward concerns over the possibility that larger vehicles could be used to damage the dam.

“The recommendations strike a balance between public access and dam security by mitigating vulnerabilities based on most probable threats and possible consequences,” said Maj. Gen. Mason Whitney, the head of the state’s Homeland Security office, who facilitated the discussions between county entities and Denver Water.

Denver Water general manager Chips Barry said the way the utility and the county interact in the future will change.

“We all learned a lot of lessons,” Barry said. “We can be more careful and deliberate in how we communicate, though all deliberations carry risks. General Whitney said this is a true vulnerability and something [we] need to pay attention to. The concerns about the dam remain, but the risk has been significantly diminished.”

Friday afternoon, Denver Water officials and the county commissioners signed an agreement that was drafted over the last week to open the road while ensuring the safety of the dam.

The agreement states that the county, towns, law-enforcement officials, emergency services and Denver Water will share information about risks and that all security decisions will be made after consultation.

“Denver Water is removing their barricades. They will not unilaterally close

the road again,” said Commissioner Tom Long.

With only a few hours’ warning to local officials, Denver Water officials abruptly closed the road on July 8, citing unspecified security concerns but insisting there were no specific threats against the dam.

If the dam was ever compromised, it would release as much as 245,000 acre-feet of water towards Silverthorne, affecting hundreds of homes, businesses and Interstate 70.

“Denver Water made a decision to close Lake Dillon Dam Road based on vulnerability assessments from three different sources,” Whitney said. “I agree that increased security measures needed to be in place in order to address the concerns raised in those assessments. The security measures taken allowed for the risk level to be reduced while exploring more comprehensive and specific security option.”

The closure was greeted with anger by local residents, who felt the utility was throwing its weight around while not taking into consideration how important the road is to the county.

One of only three east-west byways in the county, the sheriff’s office estimates 8,500 cars traveled the road each day before the closure.

County emergency responders led much of the charge against the closure, arguing that the concrete barriers and locked gates on the road severely restricted access for emergency vehicles.

Only a day after demonstrating delays in getting ambulances through the barriers, crews on a vehicle en route to an emergency near the scenic overlook got an answering machine when they called Denver Water’s security to unlock the Dillon gate.

On July 11, five county entities sued Denver Water to force the re-opening of the road, leading to the negotiations that resulted in Friday’s breakthrough.

The two sides will set aside the litigation and have agreed to form a task force to examine dam security and form intermediate- and long-term security policies.

“Denver Water and the county have 40 years of history working together,” said state Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon. “It’s a proud day in Summit County, and I’m hopeful of a new relationship going forward in mutual respect, trust and collaboration.”

K.J. Hascall can be contacted at (970) 668-4653, or at khascall@summitdaily.com.

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