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Berm, baby, berm

Tamara Miller
Vail Daily/Coreen Sapp Berms, such as this one along Highway 6 at Arrowhead, are being constructed in communities around the valley to improve residents' views and create a sound barrier.
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Mitch Perry’s golf game at the Sonnenalp Golf Course has been a little more peaceful these days, and he owes it all to a pile of dirt.”It certainly helps,” he said. “The visual mitigation is terrific and you certainly notice when you are playing golf close to the highways. It used to be a roar on the 5th and 6th holes.”Berms, like the ridge of soon-to-be-landscaped dirt built along Singletree’s Sonnenalp Golf Course, seem to be popping up everywhere in Edwards. Arrowhead’s Country Club of the Rockies also is building a berm to serve as a sound barrier to Highway 6 traffic.Walls have been built along roadways in Denver to block noise, but berms seemed to be a better solution in Edwards, said Doug Wall, golf club manager for the Sonnenalp Golf Club.”We do have a little more space to build them and frankly, the dirt is free,” he said.Dirt used to create the hilly walls outside of Singletree and Arrowhead comes from nearby building projects. Singletree has a deal with a local contractor for excavated dirt, said Neil Tretter, Sonnenalp’s golf course superintendent. “The supply of dirt is based on the construction industry so when there is a boost in the building permits there is more material available,” Tretter said.

Business indexAre berms a bellwether for the building industry?”I do know that during the slower construction years that material is less available,” Tretter said. Berms elsewhere, such as the one along Interstate 70 in East Vail, were built and funded by the Colorado Department of Transportation. The two in Edwards are being built by the golfing communities of Arrowhead and Singletree.”It’s a very cool thing how the Sonnenalp (Golf Course) put this thing together,” said Don Cohen, president of Singletree’s metropolitan district board, the governing board for the neighborhood. “It’s a great symbiotic relationship. Builders needed a way to dump dirt and to do it more cost effectively. It’s really sort of a good model of entrepreneurial ideas.”But building berms in the future may be more difficult. Since Arrowhead and Singletree’s projects began, the Department of Transportation has created stricter guidelines for berms. For example, the agency prefers to have sound walls and berms built on private property instead of land bordering the road, which is generally belongs to the state or federal government.

Jim Nall, a Department of Transportation traffic and safety engineer, said his agency works with communities to design the sound wall and then ensures that the wall meets design standards.Noise levels have to be loud enough to justify the sound wall and there must be enough space to build berms, which take up more room than the walls, said Keith Powers, a local Department of Transportation engineer. Berms also cannot interfere with future interstate projects.Natural alternativeOnce the berms are formed, crews plant native grass, wildflowers and trees. It makes the berms look more natural and more attractive, Wall said.Feedback from residents so far has been mostly positive, he said. Perry, for instance, said he prefers the berms to Denver’s sound walls.

“It looks so urban,” he said. “I don’t like the look. I would feel like I was on a main interstate artery. I very much prefer (the berms). I think ultimately once they get it planted it’s going to be much more attractive.”Singletree’s berm doesn’t extend the length of the entire community, however. Sue Spangler, a Singletree resident, said the berm probably cuts down noise, but not in front of her house.”It’s just in front of the golf course,” she said. “It doesn’t affect us.”Her husband, Richard, said he’s just glad his homeowner’s association dues aren’t being used to pay for the project. The Sonnenalp Golf Course is funding the project.”There’s nothing wrong with looking out at the highway and seeing a nice expanse of grass,” he said. “Now you can’t see anything but hillside.”Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at tmiller@vaildaily.com or by calling 949-0555, ext. 607.


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