In hopes of saving on road maintenance — and potentially smoothing over a complicated dispute over roads, easements and a little-used but expensive bridge — Park County commissioners have …
In hopes of saving on road maintenance — and potentially smoothing over a complicated dispute over roads, easements and a little-used but expensive bridge — Park County commissioners have agreed to chip seal a portion of a road on the lower South Fork.
County officials estimate that the work will cost about $100,000. However, that figure includes labor and wear and tear on equipment, plus a private landowner has agreed to cover 20% of the costs. All told, Park County Engineer Brian Edwards has suggested the county may only spend between $40,000 to $50,000 putting down one layer of chips this fall and another next spring.
“I think for us it’s a super deal,” Park County Commission Chairman Joe Tilden said last week.
The 2-mile stretch of County Road 6NS doesn’t get the 100 vehicles a day that typically serves as the county’s threshold for upgrading a road from gravel — averaging around 77 daily vehicles — but development has been increasing in the area. There are also a number of factors that make the road unique.
For one thing, the gravel stretch is effectively an island, surrounded by chip-sealed county and private roadways on both sides.
Additionally, it’s the only piece of road on the lower South Fork that is not paved, Edwards said, and plowing it in the winter requires driving a motor grader out for just that gravel dead-end. As Tilden put it, “it is a pain in the butt come winter time.”
Chip sealing, county officials said, will save money on maintenance. But commissioners were particularly persuaded by the fact that Hawks Hill Ranch — which uses Road 6NS for access — has agreed to pay for 20% of the costs associated with the 2 miles of chip sealing.
“I think this is a good deal,” Commissioner Lloyd Thiel said during an Aug. 19 discussion, comparing it to other projects where the county has received matching funds.
“I think it’s going to help us down the road quite a bit [and] save us some money now,” he said.
Commissioners are also hoping that chip sealing the road might help them move forward with plans to abandon a county bridge and a bunch of old and mostly unused roads and easements in the area.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, commissioners proposed finding a way to connect Road 6NS to Road 6JM, which is located several miles to the southwest. However, those plans eventually fell apart after the county was unable to secure easements from all of the landowners along the route. An attempt to revive the idea in 2011 also stalled.
Meanwhile, a roughly 80-year-old bridge on Road 6JM has deteriorated into such poor condition that it can no longer carry heavy loads like emergency vehicles. Replacing it would cost somewhere around $1.5 million, county officials have estimated, and commissioners have been uninterested in spending that kind of money on a bridge that accesses just a handful of properties.
In 2015, commissioners began the process of potentially vacating (that is, abandoning) Road 6JM, making the road and bridge privately owned. They later decided to also explore vacating roads 54 and 54b, routes that have not actually been built.
That process stalled out in late 2018, however, when Hawks Hill Ranch — which can be accessed by Road 6JM — claimed $834,500 in damages for the loss of that road, while ranch manager Kelly Bustos claimed $100,000. A couple dozen people also complained about potentially losing access to public land.
Hoping to strike a deal, commissioners voted in late 2018 to perform up to $200,000 worth of repairs on the bridge on Road 6JM.
However, no work has been done to date and “putting any money into that bridge would be, as Brian [Edwards] put it, putting lipstick on his pig,” Tilden said at an Aug. 19 meeting.
He suggested the county might be able to settle the issues surrounding the bridge by chip sealing Road 6NS. “In my way of thinking, if this deal is done, then we may not have to put the money in the bridge,” Tilden said.
In exchange for the county chip sealing the remaining 2 miles of 6NS, which provides access from the north, Hawks Hill Ranch, its managing partner Peter Kuyper and Bustos have agreed to drop their claims for damages. That could potentially clear the way for vacating road 6JM, 54 and 54b.
Commissioners also agreed last week to take the first step toward vacating unused public easements located west of Deer Creek Road along Castle Rock Road — something that Hawks Hill Ranch requested during discussions on the chip sealing.
“I think it’s in the public’s interest to clean all this up,” Commissioner Jake Fulkerson said of the easement situation, adding that, “It’s very confusing.”