County calls road closure ‘emergency’
While an exact timeline for reopening Harvey Gap Road remains unknown, Garfield County commissioners affirmed Tuesday their desire to see progress sooner rather than later.
“I’d like this to become an emergency, and let’s get this thing kick-started,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said, adding that he wanted to retain an engineer within the next day and try to reopen at least one lane of traffic as soon as possible.
Commissioners John Martin and Mike Samson agreed with Jankovsky in providing staff the necessary procurement powers to evaluate the situation with the goal of reopening the road, which partially collapsed Aug. 21 after saturated soil on its east side gave way.
A large gully has since formed in the area. The county deemed the road unsafe, and it remains closed.
Although commissioners stated their desire to see the road reopened — in some capacity — in the coming weeks, that might be more complicated than it sounds.
First there is the matter of determining the level of saturation in the surrounding area. The county cannot rebuild a road on ground that is saturated, said Wyatt Keesbery, assistant road and bridge director for the county.
At the same time, officials with the Silt Water Conservancy District have not determined the source of the water, but engineers have constructed plans to realign a ditch that runs alongside a portion of the road, said Kelly Lyon, president of the water district board.
That plan calls for using a pipeline to bring the ditch underneath the road north of where it collapsed — effectively eliminating the segment that runs alongside Harvey Gap Road.
“We don’t know for sure where the water is coming from,” but engineers said the best thing to do is to relocate the ditch, Lyon told commissioners.
The water district already put the project out to bid and selected a contractor for the job. Lyon said much of the mobilization work can be completed before the actual pipeline is expected to arrive next Wednesday. From there he estimated it would take about two weeks to complete the project, although the portion that would go underneath the road would likely be done before then.
In addition to authorizing emergency procurement, the commissioners also said they would be willing to help fund up to half the cost of the ditch realignment work, which Lyon said would likely cost around $200,000.
As for rebuilding the road, there is still the issue of land, said Fred Jarman, deputy county manager. At the moment, the plan is to realign the road west of its current location. However, the county does not own that land.
Martin said the landowner has indicated willingness to work with the county.
Tuesday’s conversation came amid concerns from residents north of the closure about impacts to emergency services. One of those residents, Eileen Cummings, reiterated those concerns Tuesday morning.
While there have been discussions about the matter of potable water, emergency services, including fire mitigation in an area with popular camping spots, is the primary concern, Cummings said.
While that worry is understandable, the road closure will likely not significantly impact the response of law enforcement, Sheriff Lou Vallario said Tuesday afternoon. Unlike fire services, deputies are not in fixed locations and could be anywhere in the county at a given time.
Additionally, the road and bridge department has agreed to provide the sheriff’s office and Colorado River Fire Rescue with a key to unlock the barriers should they need to travel on Harvey Gap Road, Vallario said.
As for fire protection, Cummings previously determined that the firehouse in Silt is 5.9 miles away, while New Castle is 14.6 miles away and the Rifle fire station is 16 miles away.
Rob Jones, with Colorado River Fire Rescue, said he did not see significant delays stemming from the road closure.
For the time being, emergency services needed north of the closure will be dispatched from New Castle. However, the fire district usually sends services from both Silt and New Castle when responding to calls in that area, and the response time is about the same, according to Jones.
In response to Jankovsky’s desire to see at least one lane of travel opened in the next week or two, Cummings said residents do not want to drive on an unsafe road that could collapse.
To that point, Martin agreed and said the county would not build a road on a “sinking raft.” Therefore the county cannot give a timeline until engineering and geological reports are completed.
“That’s the best we can do right now,” he said.
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