Teller Road Warriors Facing Tough Challenges

Flash Floods Invade County Roadways; Create Maintenance Havoc

Rick Langenberg

Rain, rain go away. And please, please, no more flash floods.

That is the plea of Teller County’s transportation agency, as workers grapple with an invasion of plugged culverts and drainage woes in tending to hundreds of miles of gravel roadways that pose regular challenges.

Plus, like most road and bridge crews from across the country, Teller is facing a hefty shortage of workers

Teller County Public Works Director Fred Clifford says their transportation agency is experiencing the same worker shortage trends confronting road maintenance staffs nationwide. “We are about 20 percent down from where we should be,” admitted Clifford. He said they have tried a variety of ways to attract more employees.

Still, he says their crews are responding to the current challenges quite well.

“We have a really dedicated crew. They take this very personally,” said the public works chief, who notes that many workers have worked extra hours in the last few months to make up the difference.

Clifford cites Mother Nature as the main obstacle, and mentions a flurry of flash flooding incidents, amounting to mini-storms, as the main culprit. He noted that the rain assaults have confronted regions in a sporadic, explosive fashion, with one area getting besieged with rain and flash floods,  and neighboring areas, located less than five minutes away, not receiving a drop of moisture. While Teller officials welcome the moisture, they are ready to wave the white surrender flag, when it comes to daily impacts.

This heavy flash flooding trend has caused the county to deviate from its normal road maintenance and grading schedule and tend to high priority areas. “It is an ongoing battle with the rain,” said County Administrator Ross Herzog, who has played a key role in monitoring the road maintenance situation.

In the last few county commissioner meetings, the elected panel has gone out their way to compliment the county’s transportation workers and has urged patience from residents, as they may not see graders outside their  homes with the same renewed vigor. And if in doubt about the quality of the county’s road work, commission leaders urge residents to view the roads of neighboring rural counties, like Park. “Our roads are significantly better,” said Commission Vice-chairman Erik Stone, during a recent meeting. “We are doing better than our neighbors.”

“it is really tough,” said Commissioner Bob Campbell, a veteran of road and bridge turf battles over the last 20 years, in describing the current conditions.

Commission Chairman Dan Williams echoed similar comments, and cited 3,200-plus damaged culvert areas as a big problem. Williams mentioned the road maintenance issues facing Teller a big reason to thick twice about legalizing retail marijuana in Cripple Creek. He argued that Teller agencies area already stretched pretty thin, when it comes to  responding to  current impacts.

Recently, a Zoom meeting was held with a number of subdivisions to address concerns regarding the plight of rural thoroughfares. Altogether, representatives from about 40 subdivisions participated.

Clifford didn’t cite any specific areas, and attributes the problem zones as a county-wide trend.

Even an occasional dose of dry, super-hot weather in the last month has posed problems.

On Friday, sections of Teller and the lower Ute Pass, were issued an air quality health advisory warning for their ozone levels, with residents with health conditions warned to stay indoors as much as possible. Teller is still no match for Denver,, which is having a major fight with the Environmental Protection Agency over this issue. But this is another weather-related problem we may face in the future.

Still, even with the bombardment  of rain and unusual weather, the county has taken a business as usual attitude regarding the problem.

The commissioners recently approved the annual road improvement and maintenance plan, submitted by the public works agency, outlining a road map for improvements, such as the actual roads slated for enhancements. Transportation Supervisor Brad Shaw outlined drainage as the real big problem Teller road warriors faced on a regular basis.

Junk and Trash Wars

In other county news, the commissioners updated the public and press on its  new proposed anti-rubbish ordinance that marks the first major stab at tackling trash and junk car woes in two decades. Public comment, done through online responses on the Teller County government website, is available from now through Aug. 25. That is the date of the main public hearing on the new proposed ordinance.

To date, Williams stated that residents commenting have favored having tougher rules, with more teeth for actual enforcement. This was similar to the response the county received from its relatively new camping ordinance, with a big response from home owner groups.

The big change in the new proposed anti-trash ordinance deals with the designation of the penalties, as no jail time can occur, as these infractions are compared to the situation with traffic violators. They are no longer considered as criminal penalties and are treated as civil complaints.

Another big change deals with the agency doing the enforcement, as these infractions will now be handled mostly by the sheriff’s department, which will have code enforcement officers. In the past, many of the complaints were done by the county’s community development services agency. And unlike the previous rules, complaints can be made anonymously, and don’t have to be signed, with code enforcement officials notified of problem areas.

The philosophy of enforcement, though, is the same, with a complaint-driven policy. In other words, county code enforcement officials won’t be out patrolling the region in search of violators. Williams says the main goal is to have voluntary compliance.

County leaders say they are trying to establish a balance between the need to protect property rights and the desire to clean up problem areas.  They concede that complaints have escalated with the increase in population, with many callers targeting an abundance of trash, jink cars and old building material.