July 29, 2008

Lawmakers Target Road Closings Done in Name of National Security

By Bill Scanlon

Two Summit County lawmakers will announce plans today to introduce two bills that would make it harder for government agencies to shut down local dams and roads in the name of national security.

Summit County residents and officials are hopping mad about how Denver Water shut down Lake Dillon Dam Road two weeks ago, declaring a terrorism threat but giving no specifics on how serious that threat was.

Firefighters said the closing put lives at risk because they could not use one of the few east- west passageways in the county during emergencies.

State Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, and Rep. Joe Gibbs, D- Silverthorne, are backing their local officials in fighting for a change.

"We want to take some action so no other community has to go through what we did, to challenge this in such a reactive way," Scanlan said.

The two plan to introduce a bill that would require an agency to share the threat assessment with local officials - say, county commissioners and local fire chiefs.

"In the Lake Dillon Dam Road case, Denver Water based it on a 2006 assessment that our people had never seen," Scanlan said. "That was two years ago, and we still have no basis for understanding why they did what they did."

The lawmakers' second bill would state that if a government entity wants a road or dam closed, and if there is time to plan for it, the entity has to include local emergency crews in the planning.

Lake Dillon Fire Rescue officials were livid that they had almost no advance notice of the closing, and that after the road closed, they couldn't get their bigger trucks through, even after Denver Water unlocked the gate.

"Denver Water decided around July 2 to shut down the road, but didn't tell us anything until July 9," she said. "They could have had a week to work with local law enforcement on contingency planning."

Denver Water officials had said that they didn't want to make an announcement during that week because they didn't want to draw the attention of terrorists.

"We're not asking them to do a public announcement," Scanlan said. "We're asking them to talk to our sheriff and the right local authorities."

Scanlan said that if a government agency such as Denver Water received word of an eminent threat, an immediate shutdown might be justifiable.

"But if you're worrying because a threat is escalating, there's time to take measures and work with local authorities," Scanlan said.

Scanlan and Gibbs will announce more details of their pending bills at 1:30 p.m. today at the Dillon Lake Dam Road in Dillon.

The situation on the road right now is tolerable, if not ideal, Scanlan said. Fire officials have their own sets of keys to the padlocked gate and can have full access to the road most of the day, but not at night, she said.

Originally published by Bill Scanlon, Rocky Mountain News.

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