Jefferson County to set up slash burner — but where?

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County wins grant for ‘curtain burner,’ but location will be key

By Daniel Laverty

To address the county’s growing need to dispose of slash, Jeffco is moving forward with finding a permanent slash collection site and using a “curtain burner” to dispose of it.

“We are looking for a permanent collection site,” said Mark Gutke of the Jeffco Office of Emergency Management. “The goal would be to have that site collect slash year-round and burn it when the weather permits.”

Disposing of the slash that results from removing organic material that could fuel wildfires became more difficult for residents of foothills areas when the Jeffco Sheriff’s Office cut back on its remote slash collection dates — the county offered seven sites in 2011 and only three in 2013. The major blow came when the Rooney Road Recycling Center stopped accepting organic material in October 2012. 

“We’ve used the (remote slash collection) program for over 20 years,” Gutke said. “It’s time to find a more cost-effective solution.”

Gutke joined Scott Pocsik and Travis Griffin to present an update on slash removal to the Jeffco commissioners on Dec. 17. 

The plan

Gutke said the North Central All-Hazards Emergency Management Region has approved a grant to pay for a $130,000 curtain burner. A curtain burner blows air into a chamber to oxygenate the fire and also entrap particles and smoke; it is compliant with federal environmental standards.

“An equipment grant was made through the NCR and was awarded,” Gutke said. “Now it’s all about location, location, location.”

Jeffco’s Planning Board approved a permanent burner at Shaffers Crossing on U.S. 285 west of Conifer in June 2012, but the project had been at a standstill because of a lack of funds. The plan also sparked controversy among nearby residents.

“(Shaffers Crossing) is totally off the table,” Gutke said.

The importance of the burner’s location was mentioned early and often during the discussion.

“We need to find a location where people want a burner and will use it,” said Commissioner Don Rosier. “I’ve heard people talk, and they don’t want a burner anywhere near Shaffers Crossing.”

Although the collection site would be permanent, the curtain burner would be mobile. 

The NCR is now requesting information on where the burner will be located and how it will be used. Since the NCR covers nine other counties (Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, Douglas, Elbert and Gilpin), the burner will have to be available for those counties to use and operate.

Boulder County purchased a curtain burner in 2008.

“The burner would most likely stay in Jeffco (when not being used),” Gutke said. “The only other county that produces a lot of slash is Douglas.”

Gutke, Pocsik and Griffin all agreed that disposing of slash using a burner is Jeffco’s best option, but stressed again the importance of its location.

“Ideally, we’re looking for somewhere to serve the 285 Corridor,” Pocsik said. “The next step would be to find a place up north — near Coal Creek Canyon.”

Gutke said he plans to have a location update for the commissioners early next year.



Based on slash amounts the Jeffco Sheriff’s Office collected in 2012 and 2013, the burner would need to be operational for approximately 50 days per year.

Each operational day, the county would pay two workers $142.11 each (nine hours at $15.79 per hour). After an estimated daily cost of $140 for maintenance and diesel fuel, each day would cost the county $424.22. 

If the burner can operate for 50 days, the estimated annual cost would be $21,211.

This year, the Sheriff’s Office coordinated with mountain fire departments to host three remote slash collection dates. After mitigation work, mountain residents dropped off their slash for a small fee. The program cost the county $94,869.72, with the majority of the expenses used for private companies to chip and safely dispose of the slash.

Gutke said that if the county collects the same amount of slash it did in 2013, the curtain burner would save almost $74,000 annually.

“(The burner) is a good start for our slash program,” Griffin told the commissioners. “Boulder’s been very successful with their burner. We’d want to learn from them and how they operate.”

Boulder’s burner

Boulder County purchased its curtain burner in 2008. The county can operate it only when temperatures and wind speeds are ideal.

“It all depends on the season,” said Wayne Harrington, Boulder County’s forestry coordinator. “(In 2012), dry conditions hindered us from using it all. This year, we’ve used it six or seven times.”

Boulder’s burner was used on 81 days in 2009, the most intense annual operation so far. More than 1,000 tons of slash was burned that year, Harrington said.

“We’re happy with the burner,” Harrington said. “It’s been cost-effective for us.”

Rosier weighs in

Rosier had been involved in talks with Indian Hills resident Bret Roller about cost-effective ways to address Jeffco’s slash problem. Their plans included finding approximately 20 sites where residents could drop off their organic material for a small fee, then chipping and hauling it to be broken down into compost at various sites.

“I’m still working with (Roller), and we’re always talking about ideas,” Rosier said. “A curtain burner is a way to deal with slash. Is it the best and most cost-effective way? I don’t know yet.”

Rosier also said he has concerns about weather conditions having to be “perfect” to use the burner.

“Everyone understands our risk for fire,” Rosier said. “It’s something we are taking very seriously.”

Remote slash dates

The Jeffco Sheriff’s Office will offer its remote slash collection dates again in 2014.

Next year’s collection-site dates should be released after February. 


Contact Daniel Laverty at Daniel@evergreenco.com or at 303-350-1042. Follow him on Twitter at @LavertyReports. Check www.ColumbineCourier.com for updates.