Opinion | Larson: County fails on chipping program decisions | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Larson: County fails on chipping program decisions

Marina Larson
Guest columnn

Summit County government routinely brings tax questions before the voters that are large measures with lots of possible uses. When these measures are passed, it is because the voters trust the commissioners to make good use of the funds for the purposes indicated. This year’s scaled back chipping program suggests that trust is misplaced.

The chipping program this year is not merely half the size of previous years (the Summit Daily did not report comparative costs from prior years, only the size of the program). It is also unfair, discriminatory, less useful for protection against wildfire and environmentally unsound.

The program has always been somewhat unfair because it provides little or no direct benefit to owners of condominiums or other properties with little flammable material. This year’s program is additionally unfair because some neighborhoods are picked up very early, giving people in those neighborhoods little time to prepare for the one and only pickup.

In some cases, the snow has not even cleared yet from the road edges where the material to be chipped would have to be placed. If you can only have one pickup per location, you could still have two crews working at the same time in different locations so that everyone in the county was on a closer to equal footing.

The program is discriminatory because it favors placing out large diameter logs of greater length to make the most of the allowed 10 piles. This favors people who can lift a 10-foot, 12-inch log (likely over 100 pounds). It discriminates against most seniors, men and women who cannot handle the heavy weight, and people who cannot afford to pay for help (whether in dollars or beer). It also discriminates against people who have less room at the side of their road because they can have less slash collected.

The 10-foot length allowed this year also gives rise to the usefulness problem for fire mitigation. Solid logs of 12-inch diameters are less of a fire hazard than the branches of a dead lodgepole pine, particularly those branches infested with mistletoe. They are also less of a fire hazard than the numerous small trees (less than 10 feet) that are regrowing over previously-cleared areas. The priority for this program should be wildfire mitigation, and the removal of the materials that create the greatest risk. Making the maximum size of individual pieces of material larger (which has been the trend throughout the program) works contrary to this purpose.

There is an environmental cost to the chipping program, in the form of materials that end up in a waste disposal site such as the Summit County Resource Allocation Park (aka “the landfill” or “dump”). Piles made of sold 10-foot logs have much greater density than a pile of branches or small trees and produce more chips per pile, with less offsetting fire mitigation benefit. Solid logs are also higher value, as they have other potential uses that are not found with branches and small trees. They can be used as construction materials, such as for fence rails. They can also be used for firewood.

If the county really wanted to get logs out of circulation, they could have spent the money to pick up those logs for firewood, and then given them to county residents in need. They could have spent the money to pick up longer logs and used them (or sold them) for fencing purposes.

Instead, they give us this year’s chipping program that takes higher-value, lower-risk materials and spends your tax dollars to convert these logs to a waste material that we have to pay (at least in terms of landfill space) to get rid of. This is an irresponsible fail on the part of our county commissioners.

Marina Larson lives in the Ruby Ranch neighborhood outside Silverthorne.

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