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Local News

Avalanche Fences Still Prompting Discussion

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Summit County’s Development Director, Pat Putt, says they’ve been meeting to find ways of mitigating the controversial avalanche fences planned to protect two homes in the Dream Peak area of the Colony.

But meanwhile, County Council Members say there’s no chance they can overturn the Low Impact Permit that was given for the fences a year ago.   

In an e-mail to KPCW, Pat Putt said they met on Monday with Vail Resorts and the developer of the Colony, Iron Mountain Associates.   He said the companies will re-look at their mitigation plan, in terms of placement and spacing of the fences.

But a critic of the project, Basin resident Seth Dromgoole, said minor improvements won’t cure the overall destruction of the viewshed.

During Public Comment time before the County Council on Wednesday, he asked if there was some way they could halt a project that is likely to start construction in a few weeks.       

“In the last few weeks, I’ve learned a lot about this.  While my anger hasn’t diminished at all, I think where I’m targeting that anger has changed.  And also my understanding has changed.”

Council Members said the fencing plan is based in the Canyons Specially Planned Area approval the county granted in 1999.    But Dromgoole argued that the fencing conflicts with the SPA Agreement in terms of open space designation, wildlife and viewshed.   He said visually it will result in fencing that is 14 feet tall in segments that are nearly 133 feet long.

He said the modelling that assessed the avalanche hazard to the two homes is flawed.    And there are other alternatives for safety.    

“A few examples are, continued bombing by Ski Patrol.  They could install some remote-control air blast system, such as Gasex, which is used in Little Cottonwood Canyon.  Or perhaps they could build yet another earth berm up there to divert avalanche paths, which the Colony has a history of doing.  You as a Council, you have a duty to your citizens to halt this construction project and just re-evaluate it and make sure it’s the right thing for the county.  This project is gonna negatively impact the lives of thousands in the Basin.  And really I think the only people benefiting from it are a few developers who profited on the sale of two really expensive house lots.  So if there’s anything you all can do, I would sincerely appreciate it.  And I’m not in the minority here.  There’s a lot of people that are really ticked off that this is about to happen in the mountains we hold so dear.”

Dromgoole wrote to KPCW that instead of fencing, the ski patrol could close the road access to the two homes for 15 minutes on avalanche control mornings.    He said there’s virtually no chance an emergency would happen during that brief time.

After Dromgoole’s remarks on Wednesday, Council Member Doug Clyde said the fencing plan was something approved by previous generations as they planned the Canyons Resort area.      

“When that Development Agreement, which is where you would have solved this problem, was initially approved, frankly the last thing that the public was concerned about was how they were gonna cut their runs, what they were gonna do with their wildlife, etc.   It was all about, “Build this thing as fast as you possibly can.”  That was the approval.  That was what American Skiing came to the county with and said, “If you can’t give us everything that we absolutely want, we’re not gonna build you, what was then probably a $100 million ski resort.   And that, the officials at the time decided that was the priority for the county.”

Clyde, who’s been a ski resort planner for decades, said he understands the safety priority.     But he also agreed with Dromgoole about the aesthetics.    

“And I’ve looked at these systems all over Europe.  I get brochures for em.  Are they butt ugly?  Yep, they’re ugly.’

Council Member Chris Robinson also noted that Dromgoole’s feelings are shared by a lot of people.   He said he was very frustrated by how the project turned out.

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