County beefs up DUI enforcement with van purchase

The Mesa County Sheriff’s Department will soon own the first impaired-driving enforcement van on the Western Slope, a tool officials plan to use at large social events and sobriety checkpoints and share with other law-enforcement agencies.

Commissioners on Monday unanimously approved spending nearly $160,000 to buy the van from LDV Inc. of Burlington, Wis. A Colorado Department of Transportation grant will pay the full cost of the van.

The van will have room for officers to conduct alcohol breath tests, drug-influence evaluations and blood draws, and interview motorists or others suspected to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Authorities envision using the van at events such as Country Jam and Rock Jam, at their DUI checkpoints and during saturation patrols.

Sheriff Stan Hilkey said the ability to administer blood or breath tests at the scene of an event or traffic stop, rather than taking someone to jail or the hospital, allows for more time for enforcement.

“This really will make for a more efficient operation,” he said.

The grant application submitted by the Sheriff’s Department indicates the county’s traffic fatalities surged from 10 in 2003 to 29 in 2007, an increase of 190 percent. During that same time, alcohol-related fatalities doubled from four to eight, and the eight fatalities in 2007 ranked the highest on the Western Slope and seventh statewide.

Hilkey said there are three such vans on the Front Range — in Weld County, Denver and Colorado Springs — but none in western Colorado. He said the van will be available to other agencies.

The Sheriff’s Department will provide a driver and equipment operator for its use in other communities.

Mesa County should be able to use the van beginning this fall.

In other business, commissioners adopted a policy that will allow landowners in the Whitewater area to develop their properties in a limited fashion on septic systems until sewer service is extended to the community.

The policy, which applies to properties within an 8,789-acre planning area on both the east and west sides of U.S. Highway 50, allows owners of 10 or more acres to subdivide and develop up to one house per five acres. Owners of fewer than 10 acres of land can subdivide into no more than two lots.

Anyone proposing nonresidential land uses must wait until sewer service is available and then connect to the system before developing the property.

County Land Use and Development Director Linda Dannenberger said the policy should encourage some growth without allowing so much development on septic tanks that sewer service wouldn’t pay for itself. She said it also may give other infrastructure and service providers a reason to invest in the area.

A contractor is building a sewer line from Whitewater to the Clifton Sanitation District. Sewer service should be available to a portion of the Whitewater area by the summer of 2011.


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