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Underground Comcast work halted in Gypsum, Eagle following explosion that leveled house, claimed life

Gypsum and Eagle have halted underground boring work that is part of Comcast’s fiber-optic project in the wake of a natural gas explosion on Sept. 17 that claimed the life of a Gypsum resident last week.

“We think that after an accident of this magnitude, it is only reasonable to put things on pause and to do our best to assess how the project is being conducted,” said Gypsum Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann in a Tuesday morning interview.

“We know there is just a shattering in the confidence of underground excavation right now,” Rietmann said. “We don’t have the answers yet. It is all under investigation.”

Eagle Public Works Director Bryon McGinnis said the town contacted Comcast on Sept. 17, immediately after the accident, to halt directional boring in the neighboring community. “To their credit, they had pulled all of their crews already,” he said.

Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, with assistance from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Colorado Department of Fire Prevention, is conducting the accident investigation. According to investigator Aaron Velheer with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, that work is ongoing. Additionally, Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis has yet to release the name of the woman killed in the accident.

Velheer said the Colorado Public Utilities Commission has contacted the sheriff’s office regarding its own accident investigation. “I am certain there will be other entities that will be looking into this as well,” Velheer said. “This happened in an instant and it will take a while for us to compile everything we have.”

‘Indefinite hold’

On Monday evening, the town of Gypsum issued an official statement noting “Thursday’s (Sept. 17) natural gas accident was a tragedy for the entire community of Gypsum. None more so than the family directly affected, who suffered an unbearable loss. Our hearts go out to this family and they will need our community’s love, affection and support going forward.” 

 The statement noted that many residents are experiencing stress and anxiety in the aftermath of the accident.

“Please know that the town of Gypsum has put the fiber project on an indefinite hold for now,” the statement says.

Boring work on Eagle’s municipal broadband project has also been halted, McGinnis said, pending information from the Gypsum investigation.

The Gypsum statement notes that the town plans to convene all of the project partners and take whatever time is necessary to assess the current operational procedures. 

“This was a horrible loss for all of those impacted in this community, and we offer our sincere condolences to the deceased’s family and loved ones,” said Comcast in a written statement on Tuesday. “Comcast will provide support to local community organizations, and we will continue working with the town and providing support as needed as this investigation progresses.”

Protocols and safeguards

“Time will be spent evaluating what additional protocols and safeguards can be established to ensure the safety of the project and our residents when it eventually resumes,” noted the Gypsum statement. “Once that operational plan is developed, the town will host a public meeting to share this plan before the project continues.”

Rietmann noted that while the Comcast project is happening in Gypsum, it is not a town project. Gypsum has a signed franchise agreement with Comcast which gives the company the ability to install infrastructure in the town’s rights-of-way.

“Any of the safety regulations are not unique to this project,” Rietmann said.

Prior to mobilizing for underground utility work, Comcast was required to call 811 to have other utility line locations called out on the site. SEFNCO Communications Inc. is the Comcast subcontractor responsible for the underground drilling for the fiber project.

SEFNCO employed another company, Tactical Drilling, which was at work at the site of the explosion on Sept. 17. According to a spokesperson for SEFNCO, Tactical Drilling had submitted its locate requests through the 811 system as required by Colorado regulation. The drilling company said Black Hills Energy responded and marked its distribution lines on Aug. 3 and Aug. 26 “according to publically available dig tickets viewable online.”

One of the issues now in question is whether the natural gas line locations were clearly identified at the Chatfield property. When contacted for comment, Black Hills Energy responded with a press release initially distributed on Sept. 19. That statement includes a timeline of what happened prior to the explosion and a special notation that early reports of another leak were incorrect.

“As far as the town has been made aware, it was a single strike that caused a horrible outcome, but it is nothing that is systemic throughout the community,” said Rietmann.

Rietmann said Black Hills has informed the town that it has tested its system for other possible line breaches and found no other issues.

“If residents are concerned about previous trenching and boring work around the town, they should not have concerns about the work that has been previously done. Those lines have been pressure tested and they know the lines in Chatfield Corners are sound now,” Rietmann said.

Retrieval operations

Gypsum officials advised residents that on Sept 22, Comcast’s subcontractors were authorized to retrieve any equipment present in neighborhoods around town and complete activities that do not involve boring or trenching. This work will likely continue through the end of this week.

Rietmann also noted that Black Hills Energy is currently working to complete a transmission pipeline replacement project that began mid-May and is expected to be completed in October.

“The project does not require any boring, and is simply replacing pipe and tying it in to existing infrastructure,” he said.

The project includes three locations along US Highway 6:

  • On Sept. 22, crews anticipated completion of tie-in work on the existing excavations in front of Costco. 
  • On Sept. 23, tie-in work is anticipated to be completed for United Ready Mix and National Guard locations. 
  • At Collett Corner, ongoing work will continue throughout the month of October.  

Rietmann added that in mid-October the new line will be tied into the town border station located at Cooley Mesa Road and Valley Road.

“This component of the project will also not involve any boring,” said Rietmann.

Safety tips

As part of its statement, the town of Gypsum included the following safety information: 

  • Citizens who have continued questions about the impact of the incident and the safety of their gas service are encouraged to contact Black Hills Energy at 1-888-890-5554.
  • Questions about the emergency response should be directed to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, Greater Eagle Fire Protection District, Gypsum Fire Protection District and Black Hills Energy.

Because their electric and natural gas service was interrupted for an extended period, the Gypsum has arranged for Chatfield Corners residents to request additional trash pickup for spoiled food from Town of Gypsum Trash Services. The pick-ups could be scheduled either Tuesday or Wednesday and the service is offered free of charge. To make a request, email angela@townofgypsum.com or call 970-524-3121.

WATCH: Rube Creek Fire in Wolcott met by swift air response

Armed man in disguise robs Theatre Aspen concession stand (Video)

A man in disguise who used a knife or a screwdriver to rob the concession stand at Theatre Aspen on Tuesday night remained at-large Wednesday evening.

However, despite the fact that the man had not yet been caught, pictures released of him Wednesday morning led to numerous tips from the public, and police were following several leads to try and find the robber, Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn said.

“We made strong advances today,” Linn said Wednesday afternoon. “I’m optimistic we will break the case quickly.”

The bizarre-for-Aspen crime occurred about 9 p.m., and witnesses described the robber as a white male wearing a baseball cap, glasses, a flannel shirt, something covering his hands and a bandana over his face, Linn said.

He declined to say how much money was stolen, and he said no one was injured in the incident. Another source said the robber made off with $250.

“Employees of the concession stand were approached by a man wearing a mask and disguising his identity,” according to an APD news release. “The man demanded money from the cash register. The three employees complied with the demands.

“Officers canvassed the area but were unable to locate the suspect.”

The weapon used was “edged,” though there was some discrepancy over whether it was a knife or a screwdriver, Linn said.

Jed Bernstein, producing director of Theatre Aspen, said the robbery occurred about 10 minutes before intermission of the company’s production of “Guys and Dolls.” The man flashed the weapon, forced a concession stand employee to show him the money in the cash register and fled with $250.

“The first thing to say is that what happened with completely unexpected and scary for everybody,” Bernstein said. “Safety is the number one thing and we take that really seriously.”

The police’s news release linked the armed robbery to two purse snatchings that occurred in recent days in the downtown core.

The first of those happened about 8 p.m. July 3, when a man riding a bicycle grabbed a purse hanging from the back of a chair in the outdoor seating area of Kirby Ice House, 307 S. Mill St., according to the release.

A nearly identical crime occurred just before 8 p.m. Tuesday, when a male bicyclist snatched another purse from the back of a chair, this time at Casa Tua, 403 S. Galena St., and kept riding down the street, the release states.

Three surveillance video photos from Rubey Park accompanied the news release, which came out Wednesday morning. Linn said the man pictured was seen Tuesday at Rubey Park just before the Casa Tua purse snatching. The man generally fits the description of the Casa Tua robber, he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Aspen police also released a video of the man taken Tuesday night at Rubey Park just before the Casa Tua purse snatching.

“Descriptions gathered from victims and witnesses are consistent enough to suggest (all three incidents) are associated,” according to the second APD news release.

Bernstein praised the three young people on duty at the concession stand and said they kept their heads, gave up the money and were able to continue on and serve beverages to the audience, which was mostly unaware of the robbery, during intermission.

“I’m proud of my staff at the concession stand,” Bernstein said. “They gave up the money and called police.

“As theater folks like to say, ‘The show must go on.’”

Bernstein was able to rule out one class of people as suspects, however.

“The reviews have been so positive (for “Guys and Dolls”) that I think we can be fairly certain it wasn’t a disgruntled audience member,” he said.

Bernstein and Linn emphasized that the event was unusual and that the Theatre Aspen tent and surrounding area near Rio Grande Park are safe, despite the fact that police had not yet caught the man.

“An armed robbery and a purse snatching?” Linn said. “We’ve never had that here before. It’s surprising.”

Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor also sought to reassure the community Wednesday.

“We understand these are unusual crimes to occur in Aspen and that members of our community will be concerned,” he said in a second news release. “These appear to be crimes of opportunity …”

The last armed robbery in Aspen occurred in May 2016, when a then-21-year-old local man used a hammer to rob a marijuana dispensary near City Market then fled across country in a stolen SUV.

Anyone who recognizes the man in the photos of the recent robberies can call Aspen Police at 970-920-5400 or text tips to 970-274-4128.

Fourth of July riding at Arapahoe Basin

Vail Pass is now open in both directions

UPDATE: (2:23 p.m.): Vail Pass has re-opened. Please drive safely.


UPDATE (11:08): I-70 is now closed EB at Vail Pass. Expect delays and use caution in the area.


UPDATE (10:27): The road is now open, please drive safely.


Both lanes of I-70 are blocked at the 190 top of Vail Pass due to a road incident. Expect delays and use caution in the area.

The Walden House offers views and endless outdoor recreation

Expansive views of New York Mountain and miles of trails that can be used during all seasons await those who call 705 Whiskey Ridge home. This seven-bedroom, nine-bathroom modern residence up West Lake Creek near Edwards sits on approximately 70 acres of terrain surrounded by national forest land.

“This home really caters to the type of family that leads an active lifestyle,” said Tye Stockton with The Stockton Group of LIV Sotheby’s International Realty.

“Imagine snowshoeing in the winter and biking on the trails or fishing and paddleboarding in the pond next to the house in the summer. Then at night, you get to go into this amazing house, sit by the fireplace and take in these views from every direction.”

705 Whiskey Ridge was named the Walden House, a reference to the novel “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau. Of course, the size of this home does not qualify as a cabin, but the theme of the book is what inspired the design and lifestyle of this home.

The Walden House was designed by renowned architect Annabelle Selldorf and is a modern work of art recognized worldwide. The home utilized indigenous materials like beetle-kill pine on the exterior. Other elements include copper shingle siding and hand-stacked Anasazi slivers. The materials were purposefully used to create harmony with the surrounding environment.

Even though it sits on top of Whiskey Ridge, the area the house was built on was relatively flat, allowing for more of a ranch style flow to the 10,515 square-foot home, except for the tower of bedrooms on the southeast corner.

“After a busy day of outdoor activity, your guests can retreat to the guest bedrooms at the ends of the house, which gives them more privacy. Then, the family is in this really cool stack of bedrooms where everybody gets great views. The floor plan is repeated three times until you get to the master on the top. It’s like nothing I have ever seen,” Stockton said.

Although the outdoor activities provide a workout, there is a separate glass-encased cabana-gym and outdoor pool for even more recreation.

Its location provides convenient access to the world-class skiing and snowboarding at Vail and Beaver Creek, the shops and dining in Edwards and a quick drive to the Eagle County Regional Airport.

To learn more please contact Tye Stockton at 970-470-6212 and visit www.waldenhousevail.com.

Vail 360 Video: Vail Terrain Park

Vail Mountain has three terrain parks, including a 22-foot super pipe at Golden Peak.

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Vail 360 Video: Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame

The Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame is located on the third level of the Vail Village parking structure. Admission is free, with a suggested $3 donation for adults. Sandy Treat, 94, talks about his time at Camp Hale with the 10th Mountain Division each Friday in the museum.

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Vail 360 Video: Snow falling at Beaver Creek to end Friday

As Beaver Creek closes for the day on Friday, snow starts to fall atop Centennial Express lift.

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Vail 360 Video: Almresi Vail