EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - Residents of one Black Forest neighborhood said Thursday a decision by the Colorado Department of Transportation puts homes in danger if a wildfire strikes.
The issue revolves around a culvert located on Highway 83 in Black Forest. The culvert and the paved driveway that sits on top of it belong to Shamrock Ranch. The piece of pavement provides access for emergency vehicles into the southern forested area of High Forest Ranch.
Gary Hoffman is a homeowner in High Forest Ranch and has spearheaded the neighorhood's mitigation efforts. He said C-DOT wants the Shamrock Ranch property owner to remove the culvert. Without the culvert, Hoffman said it would be impossible for emergency vehicles to make it up the embankment on the side of the road to get into the woods.
"Absent that culvert, there is no other way for them (emergency vehicles) to get in. They have to go a mile south," said Hoffman.
Hoffman said this is a critical issue for High Forest Ranch because it's built in the wildland-urban interface. It's where forest meets neighborhood and it's flagged as a high fire danger area.
Flames crept close to High Forest Ranch during the Black Forest Fire in June 2013. However, no homes in the housing development were destroyed in the fire.
Hoffman is worried if this access point for emergency vehicles is eliminated by removing the culvert, firefighters will not be able to safely fight a wildfire on the property.
"The bottom line is, in the next post-fire report, we don't want to see an ill decision by DOT [C-DOT] was a contributing factor to losing homes in our community," said Hoffman.
Homeowner Mark Fitzgerald said High Forest Ranch has been trying to work with C-DOT to explain the situation.
"Really the issue here is access along Highway 83 and some laws that help protect those that are traveling along 83 from too many people turning onto it. There is a safety issue for the state which we very much understand, but that's got to be balanced," said Fitzgerald.
C-DOT said the property owner must close one of two driveways onto Highway 83 because of safety for other drivers on the road. It said its offered the property owner a choice between which driveway he prefers to close.
C-Dot said its recommended keeping the driveway at the heart of the controversy open, and closing a temporary driveway currently used for mitigation. The choice is ultimately up to the property owner.
Hoffman has taken the neighborhood's plea to Gov. John Hickenlooper. He sent a letter asking the governor to step in.