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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Washington, DC 20226


March 23, 2010

information redacted
Northwest Chapter of the United States Avalanche Control Council
PO Box 88
Snoqualmie Pass, Washington 98068

Dear name redacted

This is in response to your letter dated May 15, 2009, to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). You requested that ATF reconsider its interpretation that ski lifts are inhabited buildings for Table of Distances purposes in 27 CFR 555, Subpart K-Storage. You believe that the distance requirements for low-volume public highways in 27 CFR 555.218 more accurately represent the public’s exposure on ski lifts to the explosives storage magazines.

The 1990 Explosives Newsletter (Volume 1) stated that ski lifts and their affiliated operating buildings meet the definition of an inhabited building. Since that time, ATF has consistently held that ski lifts, ski lift lines, ski lift terminals, and ski lift operating buildings are inhabited buildings for the purposes of the explosives storage regulations. You believe ATF should reconsider its ski lift interpretation and apply the distances set forth for low-volume highways for the following reasons:

  1. ATF’s ski lift interpretation forced ski areas to reduce their storage capacity of many explosive storage facilities and abandon others, which subsequently increased the frequency of explosive shipments over public highways to resupply the reduced capacity facilities.
  2. Suppliers of explosives are generally located several hours from ski resports, and their explosives delivery routes are frequently subject to avalanche hazards.
  3. Explosives storage magazine locations must be easily accessible during times of snow accumulation and relatively safe from avalanche hazards. This often dictates a location near the ski lift.
  4. The explosive regulations do not specifically address distances to ski lifts.
  5. A ski lift is more similar to a low-volume highway than an inhabited building in terms of function and human exposure.
  6. The types of explosives used and stored for avalanche control have an excellent historical safety record.
  7. Explosive storage is not inherently dangerous. An explosive accident is more likely to occur during the preparation, use, or transportation of explosives.

The regulation at 27 CFR 555.11 defines an “inhabited building” as Any building regularly occupied in whole or in part as a habitation for human beings, or any church, schoolhouse, railroad station, store, or other structure where people are accustomed to assemble, except any building occupied in connection with the manufacture, transportation, storage, or use of explosive materials.

The regulation at 27 CFR 555.11 defines a “highway” as any public street, public alley, or public road, including privately financed, constructed, or maintained road that is regularly and openly traveled by the general public.

After careful consideration, we have determined that a ski lift does not meet the definition of “Highway;” therefore you cannot use the Table of Distances for low-volume highways in 27 CFR 555.218 for ski lifts. Further, ski lifts, ski lift lined, ski lift terminals, and their affiliated operating buildings are structures where people are accustomed to assemble and therefore meet the definition of “inhabited building” as defined in 27 CFR 555.11.

However, ATF acknowledges the need to conduct avalanche control operations in order to maintain adequate public safety during the ski season. We will consider variances from the explosive regulations for those ski areas that meet the following requirements: 1) show good cause; 2) an alternate method that is substantially equivalent to prescribed method; 3) an alternate method that is not contrary to any provision of law and will not result in an increase in cost to the Government or hinder the effective administration of the explosive regulations.

Further, some of the factors used to determine the prescribed regulations’ equivalency are: 1) types of explosives; 2) access to the explosives magazines and explosives while public is using the ski lift; 3) packaging of explosives; 4) barricading surrounding the explosives magazine; and 5) explosive weight limitations based on historical explosives usage.

We trust the foregoing has been responsive to your request. If you have additional questions, please contact the Explosives Industry Programs Branch at (202) 648-redacted

Sincerely yours,

name redacted
Chief, Explosives Industry Programs Branch

c: All Directors, Industry Operations