More than 200 avalanche fences are slated to go in above two homes in the Colony. Vail Resorts obtained permission to build the fences through a low impact permit that didn’t require the project to go through the public review process.
The avalanche fencing was approved for a low impact permit about 10 months ago by the Summit County Community Development Deptartment. The paneled fences will be about 10-15 feet tall and wide and would act as a barrier to protect a driveway and two houses from avalanches.
Community Activist Jake Hutchinson said he was blindsided when he heard the fences were approved.
"There's a few of us that have kind of been paying attention and waiting for this to come in front of the Planning Commission for a couple of years now," Hutinson said. "And then we found out 10 months later that it had already been approved, we were quite surprised because of the amount of scrutiny that the two homes and the driveway underwent in the planning process. It really seems a little backwards to me that you can put a private driveway into a slide path and then deal with the natural hazard after the fact."
He - along with other outspoken community members - brought up concerns over visual and environmental impacts along with the potential negative effects of construction crews installing the fences.
Hutchinson said when he worked as a ski patroller and patrol director at the Canyons, he saw first hand the impacts these barriers have on wildlife.
"We pulled two bull elk out of those fences that had become entangled and had some rather untimely, probably long, painful deaths caught in those fences," he said. "And over my years there, I can't count how many animals we pulled out of there primarily in the summer. And you know, the fences that are planned for the area are a different manufacturer, but have no less impact."
Instead of the fences, Hutchinson said there are other ways to mitigate avalanches.
"There's lower impact ways for them to deal with it, such as remote avalanche control systems or racks," he said. "And the downside is those two homeowners would probably experience some sort of a few minutes of delay once every 10 or 15 years to access their homes. Instead, we're going to put the most extreme, most impactful mitigation device up there as the first solution rather than look at other potential solutions."
Other community members also spoke out about the fences during the Synderville Basin Planning Commission meeting last week. But the planning commission doesn’t approve low impact permits.
Chairman Ryan Dickey said the project never came before the commission so he’s learning alongside everyone else.
"So we heard that feedback," Dickey said. "It sounds like the reality is this is a permit that was approved almost a year ago. The appeal process for that has long passed. But we heard the public comment, and where it goes from here, is TBD, it's just not something that is within our purview as a planning commission."
Summit County Council Member Doug Clyde says the obligation for the fences was made decades ago when The Colony development was first approved.
He said ski resorts in Summit County are on private land. In the same way the county can’t tell the resorts how to load their chair lifts, he said they also can’t tell them how to mitigate avalanches.
"Largely, we would be hard pressed to go in there and say, well, we don't care what your goal is, and we don't care whether you meet your safety requirements, we just want this to be different," Clyde said. "I don't think that that is consistent with our previous agreements. Would we do things differently now? I don't know."
Clyde said the time to discuss the permit has come and gone.
But concerned Park City resident Brian Van Hecke told KPCW it’s not too late, until the fences are up.
"It's not a done deal," Van Hecke said. "This has not been started. And this has to meet the strategic goals and the plans of Summit County. There's an opportunity here with the council's initiative and approval to stop this from happening. And again, go back to the planning process, and do this the right way."
For now, Clyde said the fences are a done deal, but there’s a possibility the council could talk about the barriers in the future as well as new regulations.