County commissioners to discuss the future of Brush Creek Valley
An application to string approximately three miles of high-voltage transmission lines through some of the most visible publicly owned open space in the region comes before the Pitkin County commissioners today.Holy Cross Electric, an electric cooperative that has been supplying power to the area for decades, is seeking permission to erect 60- to 90-foot power poles up the heart of the Brush Creek Valley to a new distribution substation that will serve the growing demand in Snowmass Village.Both Holy Cross and an independent consultant for the Pitkin County Open Space & Trails program say the need for the new transmission lines, which would replace smaller distribution lines currently serving Snowmass Village, is obvious.The system will reach capacity in approximately 12 years if the growth rate remains in line with what it has been for the last several years. But the spike in demand that will occur in Snowmass Village with the completion of Base Village and Town Centre, which will add hundreds of new condominiums and more than 100,000 square feet of new retail space, means the system will reach capacity much sooner. The projects should be completed in the next few years.Today’s public hearing, the first before the commissioners, is expected to result in a denial of the application from the commissioners.”Everyone is expecting them to deny it and recommend that the lines go underground,” said Cindy Houben, director of the county’s community development department.The denial seems reasonable in light of the fact that nearly $9 million in public funds have been spent over the past 10 years to preserve the scenic and wildlife values of the Brush Creek Valley. There is, however, the not-so-small matter of cost.Holy Cross estimates that burying the lines will cost about $7.9 million more than the standard above-ground method. Holy Cross representatives told the county planning and zoning commission recently that it has the money it needs to put up the poles and string the transmission lines without raising electric rates. Any costs over and above that amount will need to be covered by the customers.The utility’s question to the county commissioners and the trustees from the town of Snowmass Village is simple: How do you want to pay for it?Three plans are under consideration:The first is to cover all the costs by placing a monthly surcharge on the electric bills of Snowmass Village customers.The second is to add a surcharge to people who live or own businesses within the service area, which includes the Brush Creek Village subdivision at that intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road up to Snowmass Village, plus Wildcat and Owl Creek.The third payment plan would split the costs between those within the direct service area and those who live in Pitkin County between Aspen and Basalt. The customers in the direct service area would cover 80 percent of the cost with a monthly surcharge; customers in the county would cover 20 percent.If a payment plan is not agreed on by the commissioners and the town trustees by the end of June, Holy Cross representatives have said they’ll use the authority of the state public utilities commission to place the lines above ground. The elected officials are scheduled to meet early next month to discuss payment options.Today’s hearing is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. in the county commissioners chambers.[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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