Funding may ease economic damage of slides |

Funding may ease economic damage of slides

Daily Staff Writer

By Bob BerwynSpecial to the DailyAvalanche experts say federal funding would help ensure a reliable replacement source for the military weaponry commonly used by many highway departments for avalanche control.Testifying before Congress last summer, Deputy U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Thompson said the agency expects the current supply to be used up in 15 years, and some areas may already be feeling a pinch. Joe Foreman, a Forest Service winter sports expert at the Dillon Ranger District, said “There have been years when the availability of explosives have been in question.”Colorado avalanche forecaster Scott Toepfer said, “It can be hard to get rounds and replacement parts. There’s not much out there.”In addition to the loss of life, avalanches can hurt the economies of mountain communities when transportation routes are closed. Economic losses to some resorts and mountain communities in the West resulting from avalanches have been estimated as high as $750,000 per day, avalanche expert Dave Hamre said.Colorado Avalanche Information Center Director Knox Williams said he’s not aware of any reliable figures pinpointing the economic costs of highway closures in Colorado. But in a ballpark estimate, Williams said a closure of Berthoud Pass, he estimated, could cost Winter Park between $250,000 to $500,000 daily.But there clearly are impacts, particularly during a severe avalanche cycle, when Silverton, for example, was cut off from the rest of the state for several days. Another major avalanche cycle in March 2003 closed Interstate 70 and other highways for a few days, resulting in lengthy detours and hindering access to mountain resorts.Additionally, Williams explained that Colorado is unique in the scheme of the proposed federal funding measure. The Forest Service administers 16 other state and regional avalanche centers in the West, but the Colorado center is state-run. Williams said the proposed federal funding would almost certainly benefit Colorado, but said it’s not clear exactly how that would happen.Hamre said the education side of the avalanche equation has not been fully funded, with regional centers sometimes depending on uncertain grassroots fund raising for outreach programs.Colorado-based experts like Toepfer said any extra funding would be welcomed and well-spent, with a priority toward public education and educational tools. Toepfer said there are blank spots in the Colorado avalanche map, including the Sangre de Cristos, and he pointed out that in the San Juans, an area the size of Switzerland, there are only three or four weather observation posts delivering reliable data.Vail, Colorado

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