Town wonders: How hazardous are they?
DILLON – When Dillon Police Chief John Mackey watches truck after truck transporting hazardous materials through town, he often wonders what the vehicles are carrying. It’s a question he soon hopes to answer.In November a tanker overturned, slid 250 feet down the embankment and spilled two tons of diesel fuel above the Snake River. The Colorado Department of Transportation estimates 150 “haz-mat” trucks travel along Loveland Pass into Dillon each day. Workers at the Eisenhower tunnel say the number is closer to 200. Loveland Pass’ safety record is far from spotless. Department of transportation spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said there were 33 truck accidents in the last five years on the sometimes treacherous mountain route.
Mackey, who has held his position since February, said the hazmat issue “stood out” to him as he assessed the issues facing Dillon upon his arrival. Now, as part of countywide emergency planning, he felt he should identify what exactly he should be planning for, and that included the possibility of hazmat spills.”It would give us a better understanding of what’s coming through town, what we have to get ready for in the event that one of these trucks spilled over,” Mackey said. “I see all these trucks – I don’t know what’s in them. There’s obviously a lot of gas trucks, but because (all) hazmat can’t go through the tunnel, what else is there?”Officers in Sgt. Adrian Driscoll’s Colorado hazmat unit regularly inspect trucks along Route 9 by Tiger Road and on Loveland Pass in the Keystone area.Inspecting officers check the trucks’ brakes, motor, shocks, steering and shipping papers, among other things. Checking shipping papers is a sure way to know what a truck is carrying – the number of trucks along Loveland Pass could be even larger if some drivers didn’t attempt to disguise their cargo to get around extra regulations.
“A lot of people, to get around the Eisenhower Tunnel rule, will just stop the truck, take their placards off, go through the tunnel and put them back on, which is a bad deal because if something happened inside that tunnel involving hazardous materials it’d be a real mess,” Driscoll said.Placard tricks are hard to catch because tanker trucks transport water, molasses and grain just as often as they transport corrosive acids and diesel fuel, Driscoll said.During the roadside inspections, if anything from technical problems to paperwork inconsistencies is found to be out of order, the truck is declared out of service and is not allowed to drive until the problem is fixed.”The requirements for truck drivers are a lot more stringent than a guy driving a car down the road,” Driscoll said. “When a carrier is running hazmat, they’re taking the cream of the crop as far as drivers, because they don’t want to have 30,000 gallons of diesel up on Loveland Pass going into the river.”
Mackey wants his department to work more closely with Driscoll’s squad, he said. “What I would like to see is us work in collaboration with them, and rather than doing it up in Keystone, we do it down here so that we can obtain some of the statistical information about who’s going through and how many,” Mackey said. “They’re doing it anyway – we might as well do it together.”Vail, Colorado
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