Heeney at center of maintenance dispute
Though the snow has melted on Kokanee Lane, animosity over the disputed Summit County road has yet to thaw.
County government stopped plowing the road two years ago, and the decision has caused some trouble for a few residents of Heeney, a neighborhood about 23 miles north of Silverthorne.
Ann Marie Damian has lived in a house accessed only by Kokanee Lane since she bought the house in 1988. For the last two winters she has had problems going to and from home, she said, because the county has not plowed the road after deeming it a private driveway.
Since then Damian said she has paid for private plowing and spent about $600 on a snowblower, but neither method of clearing snow has been effective compared to the heavy-duty equipment the county used for decades.
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Of the six houses accessed by Kokanee Lane as it curves around, four have full-time residents, she said, and in February, she had to help dig out a neighbor who was stuck in the snow.
“We get very, very little for our tax dollars,” she said. “One thing we did count on, though, was having our county roads maintained and plowed.”
She said she worried about decreasing property values because of the access issues and the feasibility of someday selling her 1.17-acre lot and two-bedroom house.
“If this kind of crap happened in Breckenridge, no one would put up with it,” she said. “It may be legal what they’re doing, but it is certainly unethical.”
County manager Gary Martinez said the change happened when the county learned that its crew was plowing private driveways, which it shouldn’t have been doing because countless other residents could then request the county plow their driveways.
“We plow every road out in Heeney. We do not plow driveways,” Martinez said. “The driveway is unequivocally, without a question a private driveway.”
At the same time that the county decided to stop plowing Kokanee Lane, said Thad Noll, assistant county manager, the county did the same with another road in Heeney and one near Summit High School.
The county notified Damian that plowing would stop but continued plowing services through the 2013-14 winter, Martinez said, because the county wanted to wait until Damian and other residents arranged a private plowing service.
In a written exchange, county engineer Robert Jacobs told Damian in December 2013 that the county wouldn’t plow Kokanee Lane because it doesn’t receive maintenance funding from the state Highway Users Tax Fund, the road serves a limited number of private residences, the road doesn’t have a dedicated public right-of-way and it doesn’t provide adequate space for equipment maneuverability and snow storage.
Damian disputed the last assertion, especially, saying that the county had plenty of room for at least 25 years to plow.
The driveway has never gone through the county’s formal process by which roads are accepted for maintenance, Martinez said. “It’s not anywhere near county road standards. It’s very narrow.”
So narrow in fact, Damian said, that the road was nearly impassable the winter of 2013-14 when 6-foot tall snow banks developed on either side. She worries about what would happen if she or another resident were to have a medical emergency or a house fire.
Steve Lipsher, spokesman for Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, said, “We have not encountered any problems getting to any places down there as of yet.”
He acknowledged Damian’s concerns and said the fire district also hasn’t been called out to Heeney to see how navigable the roads are. He added that if the county receives a ton of snow right before an emergency, first responders will have trouble navigating anywhere.
“We live in the mountains, and there’s never a guarantee with that sort of thing,” he said. “Our firefighters are hardy types who have figured out ways to get around places if there are snowplow issues.”
Dick Nolda, of Denver, has owned a house two down from Damian at the beginning of Kokanee Lane for about 25 years.
“It’s a complete road. It’s not a private drive, it’s a road,” he said. “It’s not right.”
Though he doesn’t spend much time there in the winter, he said, “I have a real mess when I do get up there.”
The county piles snow in front of his driveway, he said, adding that Damian is the most concerned of the neighbors because of health concerns.
Martinez said if Heeney residents want extra road maintenance they could organize and hire private contractors for services as an HOA would.
Damian said she believes the plowing was stopped because she complained about maintenance of County Road 30, the road into Heeney from Highway 9.
She said Heeney residents are upset that the county hasn’t followed through on a promise to repave all of County Road 30 after completing the first 5 miles about four years ago. The remaining 6 miles have huge potholes, she said, and are missing shoulders and pavement in some sections.
“They’ve barely maintained it,” Nolda said, adding that Heeney’s roads should be maintained as well as the rest. “We’re part of the county also, I’m sorry.”
He estimated that roughly 140 people live in Heeney year-round and another 150 join in the summer months.
“We have lots of roads to maintain in the county, and we did do an extensive piece of road from the south entrance,” Martinez said. “The rest of the road is in satisfactory shape.”
The county has not determined when or how it will repave the rest of County Road 30, he said, because it is still discussing options with the Bureau of Reclamations, which operates the reservoir’s dam.
Noll said the county rates roads and prioritizes the ones in the worst shape.
“We’re not going to pave roads by somebody’s schedule,” Noll said. “We pave the roads that need to be done the most.”
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