Cops helping to keep Vail open |

Cops helping to keep Vail open

Alex Miller
NWS Construction Squad PU 8-3

VAIL Most small- and resort-town police fill their days with traffic tickets, noise complaints and the occasional crimes and car crashes. This summer and next, Vails police department is charged with a new responsibility: making sure the colossal construction projects going on in town dont grind things to a standstill.The effort involves stepping outside traditional police roles and focusing on a lot of planning and communication, said Vail Police Commander Steve Wright. Along with Sgt. Dirk Etheridge, who heads up the construction and special events team, Wright said he makes a big effort to find out whats going on and plan ahead.When we found out the scope of these projects last summer, we started looking forward to try to prepare for it, Wright said. It involves all the town departments, but for the police the focus is on vehicular and pedestrian traffic, loading and unloading for trucks, signage and way-finding for tourists.The police have also been involved in reviewing projects in terms of safety and from a crime-prevention standpoint.Much of the on-the-ground effort is handled by uniformed code-enforcement officers on hand to answer questions, identify problems and keep the lines of communication open. Regular meetings between contractors, police, merchants and other town officials also help eliminate kinks.Weve had very good feedback from the efforts of the construction team, Etheridge said. The construction workers are surprised to see law enforcement out there.What it adds up to, Wright said, is a big effort on the part of the town to put out the message that, despite the construction, Vail is open for business.

While some merchants particularly in the Lionshead area have voiced concerns about the negative effects of the construction, the overall sense seems to be that tourist numbers are still OK. In a recent survey conducted by the Vail Valley Chamber & Tourism Bureau, more than 87 percent of the 544 people polled said construction had little or no effect on their visit to Vail.The town has really stepped up to the plate and organized an impressive, integrated campaign to try to minimize any negative impacts construction might have on a guest experience, said Ian Anderson, spokesman for the chamber. Weve really seen minimal effects on the tourism business.And thats what the town likes to hear. Vails success at taming the construction blues this summer has gained the attention of other resort towns, Etheridge said. Weve had other agencies calling to ask what works, pass on information about mistakes and that kind of thing, he said.The keystone of the Vail effort, Wright said, is the division of the town into four zones, with officers assigned to each. That gives officers the chance to become familiar with each zone, as well as the merchants and construction crews. We selected high-energy folks with problem-solving mentality and good communication skills, Wright said. Weve also found the merchant community to be very patient and understanding, so its made the job a lot easier.Wright added that the police department is looking for more part-time code enforcement officers to help with the construction crew. For those whod like information about construction issues or upcoming meetings, call the town of Vail at 479-2115. Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or Daily, Vail, Colorado

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