Security answers still elusive for Dillon Dam
November 29, 2009
DILLON, Colo. – More than a year after Dillon Dam Road was closed due to unspecified terror threats and the ensuing public outcry, restrictions remain intact as local governments work with the Denver Water Board toward a long-term solution.
Concrete answers about why, exactly, the road was closed in the first place don’t appear much clearer now, and much of the information surrounding the dam’s situation is unavailable for review due to security concerns, officials say.
Members of a security task force are reviewing a recent, confidential assessment of the dam’s potential as a terror target while State Rep. Christine Scanlan lobbies for federal dollars to create a permanent security solution.
Scanlan said the existing “Band-Aid” fix of security guards, limited hours, barriers and buoys calls for a permanent solution.
“What we have going on isn’t, over the long term, going to make a lot of sense,” she said, adding that improvements upward of $20 million could be a “perfect fit” for U.S. Department of Homeland Security money.
But a long-term solution hasn’t been defined – at least not publicly – and members of the task force are wary of speculating.
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The 231-foot-high earthen dam structure holds 83 billion gallons of water just above Silverthorne and Interstate 70 and is a significant link in Denver’s water supply.
Frisco, Dillon, Silverthorne and Summit County government, as well as Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, pooled money with Denver Water earlier this year for a vulnerability assessment of the dam.
Denver Water paid 60 percent of the costs for the estimated $150,000 contract with Tectonic, a company with engineers and security specialists who assess critical infrastructure, according to town of Dillon documents.
The local governments each pitched in about $12,000, and the fire department contributed $2,500.
Results of the assessment are confidential, and members of government as well as the fire district have said the contributions were justified.
“We wanted to make sure we had a seat at the table and wanted to be there to make sure the interest of our taxpayers was represented,” Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue spokesman Steve Lipsher said.
In July 2008, Denver Water irked local residents and governments when it unexpectedly shut down the Dam Road to public access. The road was opened shortly thereafter, but with limited hours and added security measures.
State Sen. Dan Gibbs introduced a bill requiring confidential security assessments in Colorado to be made available to local sheriff’s offices, but he withdrew it after observing progress at the state level, he said.
General Mason Whitney, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, said that at the time there was no mechanism in place to create partnerships between local entities and the owners of such structures as the dam.
The Colorado Rubicon Team of Colorado State Patrol had completed a classified dam assessment, and Denver Water received the results.
“The problem we have is that any time there is protected information, people that have that (have access to) that information tend not to want to release it,” Whitney said.
A program called the “Colorado Automated Critical Asset Management System” was created to bridge such gaps and help keep first responders privy to vulnerabilities.
“I think Lake Dillon Dam could have been done a lot better if (we) had the processes in place,” Whitney said.
Summit County Sheriff John Minor has since said communication has improved. As part of the task force, he and the county government are studying the recent assessment to figure the next step.
“I want to balance security with public access,” he said. “And I want (the dam) open 24/7.”
More than $1 million has been invested in security for the dam so far, according to Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney.
There have been no known attack attempts to date, she said.
The dam is apparently on a national list of “Protected Critical Infrastructure Information,” along with hundreds of other structures, bridges, utilities, events centers and more that are part of the homeland security strategy.
“Any infrastructure can be vulnerable to attack by various kinds of weapons,” Whitney said. “What you’re trying to do is mitigate those vulnerabilities to the highest extent possible.”
He said Colorado is broken down into 18 sectors, and the vulnerable sites are divided into two tiers, with tier I sites connected to national consequences and tier II sites’ potential consequences affecting the state.
Whitney declined to say under which tier Dillon Dam is listed, citing security concerns.
All members of the dam security task force have signed confidentiality agreements regarding the vulnerability assessment.
“We do not want to draw attention to critical infrastructure,” Minor said.
Last week, local officials, including task force members, met at the Village at Breckenridge for an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. meeting regarding the dam. The meeting was closed to the public and media.
Chesney said the meeting was in regard to a license through Federal Regulation and Oversight of Energy, which requires safety exercises every five years.
She said that while security issues weren’t part of the meeting, there was “sensitive information” precluding public attendance.
There are no plans for additional vulnerability assessments, and any changes to the hours or existing security operations at the dam would have to be approved by the task force, Chesney said.
Meanwhile, three of the Dillon Dam Road’s four vehicle barriers are active. Damage from a snow plow blade catching on the barrier at the westbound, east side of the Dam Road a few weeks ago caused that barrier to be deactivated.
But such an incident isn’t expected to recur.
“We talked with the Summit County Road and Bridge supervisor,” Chesney said. “If they go over with the blades slightly raised, there shouldn’t be any problem.”
Rep. Scanlan said she’s met with Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., regarding federal funding toward a permanent security solution for the dam, and she plans to meet with him again Dec. 1.
“We need an infrastructure solution – reinforcing the dam or something that makes more sense,” she said, adding that the “ongoing cost” will likely only cause tension between locals and Denver Water.