County OKs Brush Creek power lines |

County OKs Brush Creek power lines

Holy Cross customers in Brush Creek, Owl Creek and Snowmass Village will pay a surcharge to install underground power lines in the Brush Creek Valley, the Pitkin County commissioners voted on Wednesday.

The vote came after loud complaints by Brush Creek Village homeowners at the meeting, who told the commissioners that many of them won’t benefit from the project because they don’t have views of the Brush Creek Valley. The group argued they’re being unfairly lumped into the surcharge area.

Of about 110 houses in the neighborhood, only 20 face the Brush Creek Valley and would be most impacted by 100-foot towers for power lines, Brush Creek resident Lawson Wills told the board.

The town of Snowmass Village and the county want to avoid putting towers in the scenic valley, and officials have consistently leaned toward the underground plan. At issue was who will pay for the added cost.

“Most residents [of Brush Creek Village] can’t even see Brush Creek Valley – my house faces the Roaring Fork Valley,” Wills said. “If the cables are above ground, I can’t see it, and there’s no impact on my property values. That’s a fair statement to the majority of our homeowners.

“For us to bear the burden [of the extra cost for the underground plan] … we think that’s unfair.”

Holy Cross is poised to build a new substation for power in the Brush Creek Valley to handle the growing demand. The company’s substation in the Aspen area is maxed-out and could result in a massive brownout in the Roaring Fork Valley.

No one disagrees that the need for new lines is there, but a question of aesthetics – placing the lines in the air or underground – has been debated for months. And since the underground plan would cost $5 million more than using towers, Holy Cross representative Bob Schultz told the commissioners he has worked hard to coordinate the interests of the power company, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County.

On Monday night, the Snowmass Village Town Council voted unanimously to put the power lines underground, and to charge residents in the area a 14 percent surcharge for the project.

It’s the first agreement of its kind in Colorado, Schultz said. The surcharge will be added to customers’ bills for 35 years – another factor that makes Brush Creek residents uneasy.

“My mortgage isn’t for 35 years, so that’s a scary figure for me,” said Brush Creek resident Isabel Day. “We feel we have had no say as to if we’d love to pay for this or not.”

Although a proposal by Commissioner Mick Ireland to create a special district that includes only Brush Creek residents with potential views of the power lines was considered, commissioners did an about-face when it came time to cast a deciding vote. Commissioners said they didn’t want to divide the neighborhood against itself. They compared it to King Solomon’s fabled advice to cut a baby in half.

“I want a burden that’s fairly shared by the service area,” said Commissioner Shellie Roy. After agreeing with Roy’s comments, Commissioner Jack Hatfield moved that the board accept Snowmass Village’s vote as the best course of action.

Commissioners Roy, Ireland and Dorothea Farris agreed with Hatfield, and Commissioner Patti Clapper dissented. Although some commissioners were interested in involving all of Pitkin County in a surcharge to place the lines underground, Schultz said it’s not an option Holy Cross would agree with.

If all three entities couldn’t agree on a solution, the power company might have taken the issue to the state’s Public Utility Commission, which could have voted to places the power lines on towers in the valley, Schultz said. Hatfield said he is interested in preserving the quality of life in the valley – a large portion of which involves aesthetics.

“This is not about view planes,” Hatfield said before making his motion. “This is about the quality of our resorts that drives our economy.”

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is]

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