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La Plata County sheriff says road closures also apply to bicyclists

Sean Smith watched as cyclists rode through work zone
A street sweeper works Monday to clear debris from East Animas Road (County Road 250), which flooded Saturday night during a heavy rainstorm north of Durango. (Shane Benjamin/Durango Herald)

La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith watched in disbelief Sunday as bicyclists blew through “road closed” signs and pedaled through a flooded-out section of road north of Durango.

“I was shocked as I stood there for the first few minutes – the complete disregard for all of it,” Smith said Monday. “The road and bridge guys told me, ‘It's been a challenge for us to even do our job because they’re just riding through and they don’t care.’”

Isolated rain showers, which can produce an inch of rain per hour, have caused several mudslides across La Plata County. One of those slides occurred Saturday night in the Animas Valley north of Durango. The deluge sent a cascade of mud and debris down a mountainside and flooded the 2700 block of East Animas Road (County Road 250).

Road crews were cleaning the mess Sunday morning.

Smith stopped by to see how things were going. He was out of uniform – wearing shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops. That is when he saw bikers disregard “road closed” signs and push their way through the work zone.

Road crews told the sheriff it had been a problem all morning. A backhoe and a street sweeper were having to dodge bikers, he said, “because none of them are paying attention.”

“And I witnessed it several times,” he said.

Signs were posted on the north and south ends of East Animas Road, giving bikers and drivers ample warning the road was closed, Smith said.

“They (cyclists) rode right up to barricades where cars turned around and just went straight through,” he said.

In one instance, a woman in a car turned around at the work zone. But as she was turning, a bicyclist blew through the work zone, prompting her to ask, “How come it doesn’t pertain to bicyclists?” Smith said.

Smith grew frustrated and had seen enough. He called for a deputy to patrol the area so road crews could complete their job in a safe work zone. But he said that took resources away from other parts of the county.

He reminded bicyclists that respect goes both ways.

“We’re trying to always get the message out that we need to be respectful and share the roadways, and bicyclists want that message delivered to the motorists all the time,” Smith said. “But when there’s a road blockage and the bicyclists think, ‘Well, hey, doesn’t pertain to me, just cars.’ That’s not appropriate either. So we all have to follow the same rules and respect each other – that’s what it comes down to.”

He said bicyclists must obey road closures, for their own safety and for the safety of road crews.

“When the road’s closed, please acknowledge it,” he said. “... It’s not for them to judge.”

A cyclist pedals through a section of East Animas Road (County Road 250) after it reopened Monday. A mudslide closed the road Sunday, but La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith said that didn’t deter several bicyclists from pedaling through the work zone. (Shane Benjamin/Durango Herald)

The 2700 block of East Animas Road is especially problematic during heavy rainstorms. In fact, a boulder about the size of a house sits on the mountainside that will one day come crashing down, Smith said.

The rains have caused flooding in other places, including Bayfield, La Posta Road (County Road 213) and on U.S. Highway 550 about 2 miles north of the New Mexico line, where about 2 feet of water collected Saturday night, he said.

“That created some challenges, because cars were approaching it at highway speed – 65 mph in that area – and encountering this 2-foot-deep section of water,” Smith said.

On the plus side, the rains haven’t caused any major flooding below wildfire scars, including the 416 Fire north of Durango, he said. That’s thanks, in part, to runoff mitigation work, he said.

“People just need to be cognizant that as this moisture continues, when there’s a heavy downpour in an area, it can have negative effects,” he said. “Any system can get overwhelmed with the right amount of rainfall.”

shane@durangoherald.com

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