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The Nugget Mountain Bar needs to move food truck, again

Issues with fire code create dilemma for north La Plata County business
An excavation was conducted in late October outside The Nugget Mountain Bar in order to move a fire hydrant near the original food truck location. (Courtesy of Steve Valverde)

The Nugget Mountain Bar again must move the Back Country Gourmet Food Truck to its original location in front of the establishment near its entrance.

This comes after owner Steve Valverde was finally able to get the outdoor deck reopened in December 2022. The outdoor deck had been shut down previously because of alcohol permitting issues with the county.

The issue started in 2020 when former owner Kevin Wright attempted to expand outdoor seating in order to accommodate social distancing during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

However, it appears there were more challenges than Valverde thought when he took over the bar.

When Valverde purchased the bar in August 2022, he was awaiting approval from the county’s liquor licensing department on blueprints, which showed the Backcountry Gourmet food truck located near the back of the bar. The blueprints were approved in December 2022, and The Nugget was again able to operate its outdoor deck with the food truck located on the north end of the bar on a platform.

There was just one problem: That location was in violation of fire code because it was too close to the building.

Durango Fire Marshal Karola Hanks said food trucks must be 10 feet away from structures, according to the code rules for food trucks set by the Fire Marshal’s Association of Colorado.

“The reason for that is because food trucks generally run on gas, and usually it's propane,” Hanks said. “There have been instances where they've had a gas leak or something, generally these food trucks explode. And the purpose to separate them from the building was to keep a food truck fire or explosion from becoming a building explosion or fire.”

This means Valverde has to move the food truck and is faced with yet another dilemma. The only other place to move the food truck is back to the front of the bar where it was originally located when The Nugget first opened. The problem is that location also violates fire code because the truck is then blocking a fire hydrant, despite the business having the truck located their previously.

Hanks inferred that the food truck had always been violating fire code by blocking the hydrant and said that enforcement is not always easy.

However, because Valverde was the new owner of the business in August 2022, Hanks allowed Valverde time to get situated with his liquor licensing for the outdoor deck before enforcing the food truck fire code. Now that the deck issue has been situated, the bar must follow the code.

“I operate under a premise in this office, which is that we try to get people to be able to say ‘yes’ to something that we can say ‘yes’ to. It is not always 100% exactly like the code is written because not every situation is 100% like the code was written,” Hanks said.

She said that Valverde has been a “great gentleman to work with” and Valverde has expressed gratitude toward those with Durango Fire and La Plata County who’ve helped him.

Valverde said he was thankful Hanks allowed him to keep the truck on the platform located behind the bar for as long as she did. Valverde is also a firefighter in Farmington, so he understands the importance of fire code.

But this now has Valverde in a pinch.

Moving the food truck back to its original location means the business had to spend thousands of dollars moving a fire hydrant in order to meet fire code requirements on land that Valverde doesn’t own.

“It took us 11 months and one week to pay off last year's food truck moves. We didn't turn cash positive on the year after. I'm guessing this one's going to be even more expensive,” Valverde said.

The situation has left Valverde wondering why, as the business owner, he has to make these renovations rather than the actual land owner.

La Plata County Public Affairs Manager Ted Holteen said no one in the planning or building departments were aware that The Nugget had to move its food truck again.

He said disputes about renovation costs are usually between the landowner and the business owner when the business does not own the property.

Valverde said he could also have a problem with his liquor licensing because the blueprint shows that the food truck is located behind the bar rather than in front of the bar.

He’s not sure what the process will look like now that the truck has been moved.

Valverde’s question really lies with how the county approved his liquor licensing blueprints, despite it violating fire code. He was quick to point out that he’s not blaming any particular entity and has worked well with everyone involved, but is unsure why the county would approve his blueprints if he was just going to have to move the truck again.

Holteen said his best guess is that the county changed its fire code this past year after the liquor licensing department approved Valverde’s blueprint and that this must’ve been a result of the transition.

Hanks said that when Valverde purchased the bar in 2022, the county was still abiding by the fire code set in 2003, which did not have code that covered food trucks.

But Durango Fire recognized the potential danger when it comes to having food trucks near a building because most run on gas.

“There is a section in the administrative chapter that allows us when we're confronted by something that is not covered by our codes, yet we recognize is a risk and restaurant and cooking always is, allows us to look at other national or local standards,” Hanks said.

So when the county updated its fire code in July, it expanded fire code regulations for food trucks to cover code set by Fire Marshal’s Association of Colorado in 2018, which dictated that food trucks must be 10 feet away from a structure.

Hanks said there hasn’t been communication between the county liquor licensing department and her office when it comes to reviewing business blueprints for permitting, but says she would be interested in building a partnership.

“I’d love it. I live by the word of collaborating and working together and we would absolutely love to be a part of that,” Hanks said.


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