Dillon wonders: How hazardous are they?
DILLON – When Dillon Police Chief John Mackey watches truck after truck transporting hazardous materials through town, he often wonders what the vehicles are carrying. It’s a question he soon hopes to answer.Last month, Mackey submitted a memo to the Dillon Town Council encouraging the town to be “proactive” in addressing the heavy hazmat traffic through town. The trucks are forced to detour over Loveland Pass through Dillon because they are not allowed to travel on Interstate 70 through the Eisenhower Tunnel.Loveland Pass’ safety record is far from spotless. Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said there have been 33 truck accidents in the last five years (including non-hazmat trucks) on the often treacherous mountain route. Just last November a tanker overturned, sliding 250 feet down the embankment and losing two tons of diesel fuel right above the Snake River.CDOT estimates that 150 hazmat trucks travel along Loveland Pass into Dillon each day; tunnel workers put the number closer to 200.
Mackey plans to partner with area hazmat officials, who already conduct regular truck inspections throughout the county, to learn more about what substances commonly travel through Dillon. Mackey, who has held his position since February, said the hazmat issue “stood out” to him as he assessed the issues facing Dillon upon his arrival. Now, as part of countywide emergency planning, he felt he should identify what exactly he should be planning for, and that included the possibility of hazmat spills.”It would give us a better understanding of what’s coming through town, what we have to get ready for in the event that one of these trucks spilled over,” Mackey said. “I see all these trucks – I don’t know what’s in them. There’s obviously a lot of gas trucks, but because (all) hazmat can’t go through the tunnel, what else is there?”The hazmat officers under the command of Sgt. Adrian Driscoll of the Colorado hazmat unit regularly set up truck inspection checkpoints along Route 9 by Tiger Road and on Loveland Pass in the Keystone area. The officers simply pull over in an area with a sturdy shoulder, take a sign out of their trunk, and conduct inspections.”What I would like to see is us work in collaboration with them, and rather than doing it up in Keystone, we do it down here so that we can obtain some of the statistical information about who’s going through and how many, etc.,” Mackey said. “They’re doing it anyway – we might as well do it together.”
Inspecting officers check the trucks’ brakes, motor, shocks, steering and shipping papers, among other things. Checking shipping papers is a sure way to know what a truck is carrying – the number of trucks along Loveland Pass could be even larger if some drivers didn’t attempt to disguise their cargo to get around extra regulations.”A lot of people, to get around the Eisenhower Tunnel rule, will just stop the truck, take their placards off, go through the tunnel and put them back on, which is a bad deal because if something happened inside that tunnel involving hazardous materials it’d be a real mess,” Driscoll said.Placarding tricks are hard to catch because tanker trucks transport water, molasses and grain just as often as they transport corrosive acids and diesel fuel, Driscoll said.During the roadside inspections, if anything from technical problems to paperwork inconsistencies is found to be out of order, the truck is declared out of service and is not allowed to drive until the problem is fixed.
Driscoll said that while there are a few “fly-by-night” companies, most shipping firms take every precaution possible and run their operations entirely in line with state regulations.”The requirements for truck drivers are a lot more stringent than a guy driving a car down the road. When a carrier is running hazmat, they’re taking the cream of the crop as far as drivers, because they don’t want to have 30,000 gallons of diesel up on Loveland Pass going into the river,” Driscoll said.At this early stage, Mackey isn’t sure whether any of his officers will have to enroll in the two-week hazmat training course to assist the state inspectors, but addressing the problem will likely require some level of investment by his department.Mike Morris can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 223, or at email@example.com
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