Summit County’s chipping program has been overwhelmed, unable to meet demand
Summit County’s chipping program bit off more than it could chew this year. The county’s free wildfire mitigation campaign is so popular that chipping trucks haven’t been able to keep up. Entire sections of neighborhoods haven’t seen a single pass despite the promise of at least two passes.
However, with four weeks to go, the county is vowing to get to all chippable piles by the end of the program season.
Summit’s chipping program was launched in 2014 as a way to encourage homeowners to clear vegetation from their property and create defensible spaces against wildfire. Trees, logs and branches are left in curbside piles for pickup.
At the Breckenridge Town Council meeting on Tuesday, councilwoman Wendy Wolfe brought up her own experience of not having her wood piles picked up in the Boreas Pass neighborhood.
“The piles never got picked up at Boreas Pass, and now I’m worried they won’t make it the second time around,” Wolfe said. “All the piles going up Boreas Pass road are still there since the 4th of July, when they were first supposed to be picked up. We’ve gotten no word back about why, and it’s causing confusion.”
Dan Schroder, director of the county’s Colorado State University’s extension office, said that piles have been left behind in most neighborhoods, as the contractor the county hired has only been able to complete two-thirds of the piles in each neighborhood during the 60 hour, five-day weeks they have been running.
Schroder acknowledged that certain neighborhoods, like Boreas Pass, had seen barely any chipping. However, he said the county is doing all it can to make sure that scheduled and missed piles get chipped by the end of the season … as long as they are the right kind of piles.
“One of the problems we’ve encountered is that some residents aren’t putting out the proper material for chipping,” Schroder said, adding that some piles have had to be skipped because they contained un-chippable material like cottonwood or willow trees.
The chipping program’s fact sheet notes that cottonwood and willow are not accepted as they clog up chipping equipment, and because their high moisture content actually helps inhibit the spread of fire. Other common materials that can’t be chipped include treated lumber and shrubbery.
“This program is for wildfire mitigation, not to help with landscape cleaning,” Schroder said.
Schroder added that the Boreas Pass neighborhood will be chipped next week, and Wolfe was pleased to hear it.
“I know they’ve been overwhelmed, and I’m thrilled that the community has been taking wildfire mitigation so seriously,” Wolfe said. “I am confident the county will eventually get rid of all that dead wood.”
Schroder assured residents that their wood piles will be picked up in the next few weeks, as long as their wood piles are visible on the curb, properly stacked and don’t contain prohibited items mentioned in the fact sheet, available at the chipping program’s website at Co.Summit.Co.Us/Chipping-Program
“Our aim is ‘no pile left behind,’” he said.
As far as how to prevent the same problems next year, Schroder said that the county will be going back to the drawing board to overhaul the program and work out issues that led to the severe delays, including how to schedule the chipping and sorting out issues with contractors.
Despite the overload, Schroder said that he is also very pleased that that the community has been working so hard on wildfire mitigation, which was the mission of the chipping program to begin with.
“We’re going to revisit how the program is structured and find a better way forward,” Schroder said. “We thank the community for participating and for their patience.”
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