July 10, 2008

Denver Water in Hot Water Closing of Dillon Dam Road Angers Summit Officials

By Bill Scanlon

A retractable fence to allow emergency vehicles to use Dillon Dam Road should be installed soon, Denver Water officials said Wednesday.

But Summit County officials remain hopping mad at Tuesday's announcement by Denver Water that the dam road would be closed because of concerns that a terrorist act could breach the dam, threatening residents and water supplies.

The road was closed just after midnight and right now vehicles can't get through.

Fire officials said the road's closure will slow response times.

Dillon Reservoir, 70 miles west of Denver, is part of the system that delivers water from the high country to 1 million customers in Denver and its suburbs.

"They couldn't provide us any evidence of an imminent threat," Summit County Commissioner Tom Long said Wednesday morning. "They cited unnamed state and federal agencies, but declined to name them. This is pretty bogus. We're sitting here puzzled."

Denver Water also refused to give to the Rocky the names of the federal and state agencies that spoke to officials about a security threat.

"To have it shut down six hours after you're informed about it is a bit of a shocker," Long said.

"We're practical people," Long said. "We don't want to see anyone blow up the dam, either. But if a real threat exists, point it out."

Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue Chief Dave Parmley said the dam road is just one of three east-west passage roads in the county, and that with frequent closures of Interstate 70 in the winter, it dangerously compromises the ability to reach an emergency scene.

"It certainly has an impact on our ability to respond in a timely manner," Parmley said.

A wildfire could break out any time in the dry forest forcing the evacuation of hundreds of homes - and a possible traffic nightmare with the dam road closed, he said.

"It really puts a difficult challenge in front of us," Parmley said. "Between ambulances, fire and police, hardly a day goes by when we don't utilize Dillon Dam Road."

The specialized firefighting trucks prefer Dillon Dam Road because they don't have to go up and down a steep grade as they would if they used the I-70 ramps, he said.

If military bases such as Fort Carson have figured out ways to keep roads open and still keep terrorists out, Denver Water should be obligated to find similar solutions, he said.

Adding to the chorus of boos for Denver Water on Wednesday were Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Summit County, and Sen. Dan Gibbs, D- Silverthorne.

In a statement, they said, "We are disappointed that Denver Water has taken this action to close this crucial roadway without first communicating with our emergency services personnel including fire, ambulance and police officials. Certainly we will respect any form of a credible threat that would necessitate such a reaction."

Parmley hasn't heard what is behind the sudden move.

"Maybe it's the Democratic National Convention in Denver" in late August, he said.

Parmley said "there was absolutely no communication from the Denver Water Board to emergency services."

"If they want to maintain cooperation with us . . . this is a bunch of baloney."

Originally published by Bill Scanlon, Rocky Mountain News.

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