From road conditions to emergency services, Heeney residents raise a host of concerns in hopes of finding solutions

Slow emergency response times and issues with snow removal were among the top concerns raised by Heeney residents at the meeting with Summit County government and public safety officials

Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons (left) and county government officials met with Heeney residents on Saturday, April 8, 2023. Heeney resident Mark Eatherton (right) led the conversation.
Ryan Spencer/Summit Daily News

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct what it would cost Heeney taxpayers for Summit Fire & EMS to absorb the Lower Blue Fire Protection District.

Public officials met with residents of Heeney on Saturday, April 8, to discuss a host of concerns from roadway conditions to slow emergency response times to issues with snow removal.

About 25 residents of the census-designated portion of unincorporated Summit County turned out to the community center at the Lower Blue Fire Protection District for the meeting.

Slow fire response time

Heeney resident Mark Eatherton, who organized the meeting with county and public safety officials, noted concern about a cabin fire on Dec. 30 that took Summit Fire & EMS just over 45 minutes to reach. No one was injured in the fire, but the blaze destroyed the cabin located at 83 Lake View Drive, also known as County Road 1751.

“I’m sure that it is probably going to happen again,” Eatherton said. “It is virtually impossible for it not to happen based on demand and coverage and availability.”

Summit Fire & EMS Chief Travis Davis agreed that it is likely that there will be fires or emergencies in Heeney in the future that could take the fire protection district a while to arrive.

The fire district has four fully staffed fire stations in Keystone, Dillon, Frisco and Copper. The fire district can be responding to as many as 60 calls a day, especially around busy holiday weekends, according to Davis.

“Every now and again all the stars are going to align,” Davis said, “and you’re going to end up with something like this, unfortunately.”

A blaze destroyed a cabin in Heeney Friday, Dec. 30, 2022.
Marsha Dirienzo/Courtesy photo

Typically the Dillon or Frisco engine would have been the first to respond to Heeney for a call such as the fire on Dec. 30, Davis said. But on that day, both those engines were tied up with other calls, so the first responding units were out of Copper and Keystone, he said.

Law enforcement advised responding units of something blocking the south Heeney entrance, so some of the first units to arrive at the scene entered Heeney from the north, further delaying the response, Davis said. Later units learned that the road from the south was not blocked.

Then, when the first engine arrived at the scene, snowy conditions caused the vehicle to slide down the driveway, again slowing the response, Davis said. He noted the cause of the fire is believed to be electrical in nature.

“I’m not going to sit here today and tell you it’s not going to happen again,” Davis said.

Since Summit Fire & EMS began contracting with the Lower Blue Fire Protection District for emergency services about 12 to 15 years ago, Davis said, call volumes have increased from about 15 calls a year to between 50 and 80 calls in the past five years. That is in addition to increased call volume within the Summit Fire & EMS Fire Protection District, he said.

On average over the past five years, the average response time to Heeney has been 27 minutes, according to Davis, who added that some responses have been as fast as five minutes or as slow as 50 minutes. A new fire station slated for Silverthorne may help, he said, but is unlikely to “create a world of difference.”

For Summit Fire & EMS to absorb the Lower Blue Fire Protection District it could cost taxpayers $30 per $100,000 in assessed property value a year, Davis said, compared to the $20,000 a year that Heeney residents pay for their current contract.

“We think, despite the response times, that is the most responsible model for you folks that are footing the bill,” Davis said of the existing contract.

Even if Summit Fire & EMS and the Lower Blue Fire Protection District were to consolidate, Davis said he could not guarantee that a new station would be built since that costs $2.3 million a year to staff a station.

“It’d be different if we were looking at 1,000 calls out here a year,” Davis said. “Then we would absolutely have a reason to justify putting a station somewhere between the north station and Silverthorne and out here to cover that service area.”

Heeney residents discussed the condition of County Road 30, also known as Heeney Road, with county officials on Saturday, April 8, 2023.
Mark Eatherton/Courtesy photo

County Road 30 conditions

Heeney residents also took issue with the condition of County Road 30, also known as Heeney Road. Eatherton said parts of the road are degraded and unsafe and asked whether the county has plans for repairs.

County Engineer Robert Jacobs said the county has a part of County Road 30 slated for repairs next year, which should address some of the concerns. He also noted the county has received a grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation to mitigate falling rocks near the dam.

Once fences are put up to prevent rocks from falling on this section of roadway, Jacobs said, repair work can be done. However, it does not make sense to repair that section of road at present due to the potential for falling rocks to cause damage, he said.

Commissioner Josh Blanchard said the county does not feel that it receives enough funds from the state for road repair. Blanchard said the county has raised the issue with state legislators and is keeping an eye on a bill that would increase road repair funding.

County Public Works Director Brent Spahn noted that of the county’s $2.7 million road repair budget the county had last year, $1.2 million went to Heeney.

“We’ve, actually, in the last two years, spent a higher percentage of our road maintenance budget on Heeney compared to the rest of the county,” Spahn said.

Eatherton also suggested that the county increase signage along County Road 30 to notify drivers of pedestrians and bicyclists, who he said is significant in the summer months.

Law enforcement presence

Heeney residents also expressed concern about the level of law enforcement presence in the area, particularly during busy summer holidays such as the Fourth of July. 

Last Fourth of July, Eatherton said, some people were shooting “commercial grade” fireworks off their roof. One of those fireworks struck a resident in the foot and several ended up on his metal roof, he said.

Eatherton claimed that when a resident reported the fireworks to dispatch, the dispatcher said that unless someone was injured or there was a fire they would not send a responder.

But, Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said, “I can’t even imagine a version where our dispatch center would tell someone, ‘There’s no one.’ There’s always someone to send.”

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, there are two Sheriff’s Deputies assigned to Heeney on a contract with the forest service for four hours a day and six hours a night, FitzSimons said. He noted that if the person who made the call about the fireworks knows the day and time the call was made the Sheriff’s Office could go back to the recording to figure out what happened.

FitzSimons said residents should call 911 to report fireworks being set off in the summer because they pose a fire hazard. Interim County Manager Philip Gonshak noted that it can be hard for police to catch individuals setting off fireworks.

“The problem really comes down to seeing somebody physically light that firework and then having the ability for a police officer to be there or a Sheriff’s deputy to be there and arrest that person for that act,” Gonshak said. “As you know, they run back into the campgrounds and they all look the same at night.”

Eatherton added, “a noticeable presence makes a huge difference in the response of the people that live up here.”

Mark Eatherton/Courtesy photo
Snow removal issues, including residents’ driveways being plowed in, were raised when Heeney residents met with Summit County government officials on Saturday, April 8, 2023.
Mark Eatherton/Courtesy photo

Snow removal issues

One of the major concerns of Heeney residents was snow removal. Eatherton said the county’s snow plow operator in the area had done a pretty good job in the past, but since that person changed there have been more issues.

“We seem to have backslid pretty significantly with the most recent employee change that occurred for the snowplow operator up here,” Eatherton said. “We’ve got roads that used to be two lanes that are now down to one lane.”

The road over the dam has on several occasions become a single lane road due to inadequate snow removal and residents’ driveways and many side roads get plowed in regularly when the main roads are plowed, he said.

“I don’t expect the county to clear my driveway — I know that’s not part of the plan — but it would be great if there was some method of being able to meet with the plow driver and say, ‘Look when you come through here if you could switch your blade 90 degrees and push this to the other side of the road where there are no driveways.'”

Eatherton suggested that residents who live in Heeney in the winter put green reflectors at the base of their driveway to indicate to the plow driver that that driveway needs to be maintained.

County Engineer Jacobs said he would take the idea into consideration but noted, “I’m reluctant to put our plow drivers in a position where they’re negotiating with individual property owners.

“I mean think of what that would do to every route throughout the county,” he said.

This Google Earth screenshot shows an intersection on Colorado Highway 9 that Heeney residents during a meeting with county officials on Saturday, April 8, said lost a turn lane during a construction project.
Mark Eatherton/Courtesy photo

Highway changes

Heeney residents sought the county’s help with concerns related to Colorado Highway 9. 

When Blue Valley Ranch and the state installed wildlife and overpasses and underpasses a few years ago, a southbound left turn lane from the highway onto County Road 30 was removed, creating safety issues, Eatherton said.

“There have been numerous head-on accidents,” Eatherton said.

Lots of people pass illegally in the area, Eatherton said. He noted that there is not a large enough paved shoulder for passing to be safe at this intersection.

Interim Assistant County Manager Scott Hoffman said he would be in contact with state officials with the Colorado Department of Transportation to see if there is anything they can do about the intersection.

Sheriff FitzSimons suggested that Heeney residents all go to the Colorado Department of Transportation website to file a complaint. He said that has been effective for other neighborhoods when they flooded the department with complaints about a single area.

Arrowhead Landslide

Residents of Heeney also have concerns about a large potential landslide being monitored by the federal government. Eatherton noted that the landslide — known as the Arrowhead Landslide — has impacted people’s ability to build structures on their land.

“What is the federal government saying? Are we really in a situation where we need to worry about it?” Eatherton said. “And, if so, what do we do about it?”

Gonshak said that the county will reach out to the federal Bureau of Reclamation to get further information on the status of the landslide for Heeney residents.

A Google Maps screenshot shows some of the houses in Heeney drawn into floodplain maps that residents say should not be in the floodplain.
Mark Eatherton/Courtesy photo

Floodplain issues

Heeney residents also expressed concerns related to floodplain maps drawn by the federal government. Some of the houses shown in the floodplain — and therefore paying for flood insurance — are not actually in the floodplain, according to Eatherton.

“The problem is one of basic math,” Eatherton said. “That is not part of the floodplain. It couldn’t be part of the floodplain.”

Based on elevation and the maximum height of the dam at the reservoir, Eatherton claimed that it would be impossible for the Green Mountain Reservoir to overflow places indicated on the map. He asked the county to interface with the federal government to resolve the issue so residents aren’t paying for flood insurance unnecessarily.

County Engineer Jacobs said the county has appealed the issue with the federal government but received no response. He said the federal government is in the process of remapping the floodplains in the county, including the area at issue.

Zoning changes

Eatherton said some Heeney residents have concerns about zoning changes occurring without homeowners being made aware.

Interim Assistant County Manager Hoffman said the county always goes through a public process when making zoning changes. Interim County Manager Gonshak noted that it is not uncommon to hear that residents were not aware of county processes despite public postings. 

Gonshak suggested that Heeney residents communicate with county officials to let the county know which avenues of communication work best for them.

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