Summit County struggles to keep up with workload from chipping program | SummitDaily.com | SummitDaily.com

Summit County struggles to keep up with workload from chipping program

Summit County's chipping program has become a victim of its own success, as the county tries to catch up with the sheer volume of wood left out by residents in the program's fifth year.

The program, which started in 2014 to encourage homeowners to create defensible space against wildfire, has the county sending chipping teams to pick up trees and branches cut and discarded by homeowners to chip them on-site and haul the material away.

Dan Schroder, director of the CSU county extension office overseeing the program, said that this has been the most popular year for chipping so far, seeing double the participation of years past.

"In the first week of the program, we had a 43 percent increase in chipping volume over last year," Schroder said. "But because of that increased initial volume and more homes to cover, we've fallen behind schedule."

The chipping program began on June 26. Crews have been doing the rounds, going to every residential street in the area looking for piles to pick up, process and take away. Some may have noticed their piles not picked up yet and Schroder assures residents that they will be eventually.

"We thank the public for their participation and are asking them to be patient," Schroder said. "We know there are slash piles out there and we will get to them as soon as we can."

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Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs said that the chipping personnel is being doubled on Monday from four to eight to deal with the workload.

"Our chipping contractor has been putting in a tremendous amount of work, with crews operating on evenings and weekends to address this incredible volume," Gibbs said. "We're in the process of adding more capacity, in the form of labor and equipment, so that we can get caught up."

Chipping programs have become increasingly popular in wildfire-prone areas around the country. Aside from the homeowner benefit of creating defensible space around their homes, firefighters have fewer homes to worry about defending if a wildfire manages to reach neighborhoods.

"We've been asking people for years to help with wildfire prevention by creating defensible spaces, and it seems there's now a widespread buy-in to this idea," Schroder said.

Gibbs thanked homeowners for their patience and the work they've put in to reduce fuels on their properties.

"We know the community is out there working hard too," Gibbs said. "It takes real elbow grease to get out there and remove that flammable vegetation from around your homes. We absolutely recognize that, and we salute everyone for their efforts."

For anyone who left their piles out on schedule, but never saw them picked up by the following Sunday, the chipping program offers a missed chipping pile form that can be submitted online. The form will note a missing pile's address and make sure it is hit on subsequent runs. The form is available at the chipping program's website, CO.Summit.CO.US/chipping.

The county reminds homeowners that improperly stacked piles and any piles stacked after 8 a.m. on Monday may not be identified or collected. The county will collect piles that meet the following guidelines:

Stack piles neatly (no bags), with the large ends of branches facing the road.

Place piles within 5 feet of the roadway, but not touching the road or in drainage ditches.

Maximum pile size is 5 feet high, 5 feet wide and 5 feet long. There is no limit on the number of piles you may put out. If you have more than 20 piles, please notify the county one week prior to your chipping week.

After crews have removed your pile, clear away any remaining branches, needles and debris.

Do not combine piles with neighbors' piles or place piles in other neighborhoods.

If you would like to keep your chips, tie a piece of red yarn or flagging in a prominent spot on the pile.