Feds say no plans to close Blue Mesa Dam road
In a move that has outraged Summit County residents, the county road across the Dillon Reservoir Dam has been closed by Denver Water Board officials. However, officials with the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the nearby Blue Mesa Reservoir, say there are no plans to close the road across that dam, which accesses the west flank of Gunnison County.
About two and a half hours north of Gunnison County lies the resort community of Summit County and the mountain reservoir known as Lake Dillon. The Dillon Reservoir was built by Denver Water in the early 1960s and is the largest storage supply in the city of Denver’s water system. The construction of the reservoir required the relocation of the town of Dillon, but in exchange the county was given access over the dam road. The road serves as one of only three routes of travel around the reservoir.
Earlier in January, Denver Water officials closed the dam road temporarily after two youths were spotted acting suspiciously. Authorities discovered the two were actually filming a music video.
On Wednesday, July 9 the Denver Water Board decided to close the road indefinitely to vehicular traffic, while allowing emergency access. The board cited security concerns of a terrorist attack, and the safety of residents below the dam and along the Blue River as reasons to close the road. There is a bike path adjacent to the road along the entire interior flank of the earthen dam, which remains open for bikes and pedestrians.
The move has shocked Summit County officials, who say they were given no choice on the matter and were informed only hours before the closure. On Friday, July 11 a contingent of the affected municipal governments, the county government, and emergency responders filed a complaint in Summit County District Court asking the judge to override Denver Water’s decision and re-open the road. The government officials said the close makes emergency access very difficult.
The complaint has yet to be reviewed by the court.
Meanwhile, two and a half hours southwest of Lake Dillon is Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County, an 800,000-acre-foot reservoir owned and operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Bureau of Reclamation Grand Junction office public affairs specialist Justyn Hock says, “We are not looking at closing any of our dams.” She says the bureau reviews the same security concerns as the Denver Water Board, such as the type of construction of the dam (Dillon is earthen, whereas Blue Mesa is concrete), and communities and infrastructure below the dam. “I can’t say what the specific criteria would be… We take a number of factors into consideration, such as the type of dam, how big it is and that kind of stuff. We do constantly evaluate different things,” Hock says.
Hock says if there were concerns of a terrorist threat, the Bureau would take those into consideration, but there were no such concerns at the time.
The Blue Mesa Dam road, or State Highway 92, is also a part of the West Elk Scenic Byway Loop, which circles through most of Gunnison County. Scenic Byway committee chairman Dave Roberts says it is highly unlikely the Bureau would close the road anytime soon. Roberts is also the management assistant for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Currecanti National Parks. He says a legal closure of the dam would have to involve the cooperation of many different entities, including local governments, the Parks Service, the Bureau of Reclamation and the state. “That would be a major discussion,” he says.
Roberts says the road is very important to the community. “It connects the North Fork (of the Gunnison) with this community. Primarily it’s a way folks can get to Gunnison or reach U.S. Highway 50 in general. It’s also a very important connection for Currecanti National Recreation Area.”
Back in Summit, officials are still waiting to hear from the court regarding the dam road closure. The Summit Daily News editorial board writes in a July 11 editorial, “It is not simply the decision to close the Dillon Dam Road that draws our anger. It is the disrespect and disregard Denver Water shows county residents and officials in giving just five hours notice that one of the county’s three primary east-west arteries would be closed.”