July 17, 2008

Denver Water Hands Over Keys Firefighters Can Open Gate Blocking Dillon Dam Road

Denver Water officials handed over some keys to Lake Dillon firefighters Wednesday, going a long way toward easing tensions between the two agencies over the closing of Lake Dillon Dam Road.

"That's a great step in the right direction," Lake Dillon Fire Rescue spokesman Brandon Williams said, following a test of a new barrier system and the handover of the keys.

Summit County officials were furious when Denver Water officers last week announced they were closing the road for fear the dam is a likely target for terrorists.

County commissioners said too little warning was given, the move was unilateral, Denver Water never identified a specific threat, and the closure would delay emergency crews' ability to reach those in need.

None were more angry than the firefighters at Lake Dillon Fire Rescue, who were delayed five minutes Friday in getting to an injured bicyclist. First, said Chief Dave Parmley, they had to wait at the gate when their call to the Denver Water security officials with the keys was forwarded to voice mail.

Then they had to pile into an ambulance, which barely could squeeze through the concrete barriers set up behind the fence; their firetruck had no chance to make it through the serpentine course.

Wednesday, though, Fire Rescue's biggest truck was able to get through the new configuration of barriers.

Better still was getting duplicates of the keys that can unlock the gate in front of the barriers, Williams said.

"It's still not unimpeded access," Williams said. "It still requires a firefighter to jump out and unlock the gate.

"It's not perfect, but it's getting there."

Lake Dillon Fire Rescue sent a notice of violation to Denver Water on Tuesday, saying the locked gate violated fire codes and continued blockage could lead to criminal charges.

Summit County commissioners last week were dissatisfied with Denver Water's statement that it had met with state and local security agencies and concluded that terrorists could target the dam, which prompted the closure.

Commissioner Tom Long noted that Denver Water declined to name the security agencies, and there was no way to tell whether the threat was specific to Lake Dillon or a general threat to all dams in the nation.

Originally published by Rocky Mountain News.

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