Guest opinion: Avalanche fencing in The Colony should be scrapped for the benefit of the community
Last June, The Colony received a low impact permit for avalanche fencing along the Park City ridgeline. A few years back, The Colony was approved for two house lots on the ridge next to Cloud Dine at Park City Mountain Resort. The road (essentially a long, shared driveway) that accesses the two lots crosses beneath a series of avalanche paths. This road is potentially threatened by the runout and debris of large, historic avalanches. In June of 2020, The Colony was approved to build avalanche fencing in four separate avalanche paths in this area to mitigate the risk to this road. I listed my concerns to this project below:
1. Was this low impact permit ever opened up for public comment? I have been watching for a public comment forum for this project for the past two years, but I never saw a notice. Given the approval date of June 9, 2020, it is possible that public comment was sought when myself, like all of the world, was completely distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. The two lots serviced by this road fell under intense scrutiny about viewshed impacts before they were approved. It’s obvious that the avalanche fencing approved in this low impact permit did not have a similar analysis conducted prior to its approval. I conducted a viewshed analysis on Google Earth that shows these fences will be visible year-round from most of Snyderville Basin and the Round Valley open space area.
3. The Colony wants to build avalanche fences because it does not want the road to ever be closed while PCMR ski patrol performs avalanche mitigation work. This is an extreme example of wealth entitlement — millionaires want to build houses at 9,000 feet adjacent to avalanche terrain, and now all of Snyderville Basin will be negatively impacted because the homeowners and The Colony don’t want the driveway closed for 45 minutes while ski patrol performs avalanche mitigation!
4. This project is not industry standard for avalanche mitigation. Avalanche fencing is used to protect occupied buildings and major roadways. These homes will likely be vacant the majority of the year, and the fencing is designed to eliminate avalanche hazard from what is essentially a driveway. There are many other viable solutions to this hazard with far less impact on the environment and the citizens of Snyderville Basin.
5. What kind of precedent does this set for future housing development and avalanche mitigation in The Colony? I’ve seen a map that shows a road approaching the base of the “West Monitor” avalanche path — will this area be covered in avalanche fencing in the future?
6. The avalanche fencing will have negative impacts on wildlife. Anecdotally, I have heard of multiple elk becoming trapped in the avalanche fencing located on the south side of slope at the top of the Tombstone lift. The sheer scope of the project for the Dream Peak area ensures more elk will be harmed. According to local media reports, the contractor installing the fencing has stated spacing of three feet between fencing panels to allow wildlife to pass; however, this is likely inadequate as I’ve rarely seen a bull elk with antlers that are less than three feet wide.
I urge the county government to issue a moratorium on this project and reconsider the great negative impacts of the project approved under the low impact permit.
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“Proponents should be honest about what they plan to put in a landfill,” writes Thomas Jacobson, “and everyone should understand the consequences if the geology and hydrology have not been properly studied.”