Monday, October 21, 2019

Deep snow and winter weather stalls county road openings

Kebler not opening—for a while

By Mark Reaman and Katherine Nettles

It should not surprise anyone that Kebler Pass Road will not be open to the other side this Memorial Day Weekend. Going to Paonia still means taking the long way around.

Traditionally, Gunnison County likes to have the road open for the Memorial Day holiday but the heavy winter and late spring snow has hampered efforts to get it open.

“I do not expect Kebler to be open for Memorial Day. We have not even opened to the forks of Irwin [the Y] and we have no idea if there is damage in the unstable areas over the top,” explained county public works director Marlene Crosby early this week. “We have had crews on the Somerset side working on ditches that couldn’t hold the water and plugged culverts, and I’m not expecting it to be different on this side.”

On Tuesday morning, she became even more definitive. She told the county commissioners that opening Kebler is far from ready. “We will have a better idea in a couple of weeks,” she said, noting that it has sometimes waited to open until around June 15.

“Typically we get it open by Memorial Day weekend. This in not a typical winter,” understated county commissioner Jonathan Houck.

As for other nearby county roads, Crosby said the wet weather is having an impact. “Slate is a natural melt and I understand there is still a couple of feet of snow just past the winter trailhead,” she said. “At least one vehicle has tried to drive past the plowed portion of the road and ended up getting stuck and tearing up the area trying to get out. A ‘road closed’ sign is being put up in that area.

“We will not be plowing into Gothic this week,” Crosby added. “We will re-evaluate after Memorial Day. Our plan is to only plow to the bottom of the hill at the dining hall when we do plow. There is no point in encouraging traffic to go further when there is no place to park and no place to turn around.”

The heavy snowpack has definitely had an impact on the schedule for Cottonwood Pass as well. Crosby said the contractor had hoped to move in mid-April and plow snow to begin paving work by early May.

“They did not get to move equipment into the area until the week of May 6,” Crosby explained. “They are currently plowing three to four miles below the summit and the wet, heavy snow is five feet deep.”

On Tuesday, she reiterated that Cottonwood wouldn’t be open any time soon. “The best of all worlds would be to open on Monday, July 1 with one way traffic,” Crosby informed the commissioners. “Then close Tuesdays through Thursdays to get uninterrupted time for the continued construction efforts.” She said paving may need to happen from the bottom up, although the hope was that it would be a better product if paved from the top down. “They still need to put in culverts,” she added.

Crosby said Chaffee County anticipates having its side open to the top for Memorial Day.

The Gunnison County commissioners decided to add a special session at its next meeting, May 28, to better assess the situation. They are considering that maybe the whole Gunnison County side of the pass should remain fully closed until the road work is complete to avoid delays and confusion over temporary or partial openings and to “do it right,” as county commissioner Roland Mason said. Houck agreed that it seems worth considering “in the investment we’ve made as our part of the project.”

As for predicting when Kebler might open: There is no prediction except that the backcountry powder will be pretty phenomenal up the Kebler drainage for late May.

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