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Holy Cross and Snowmass Village to discuss site for electrical substation

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Officials from Holy Cross Electric, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County have been in negotiations over how to boost the power supply to residences along upper Brush Creek for nearly a year, but significant differences remain between the parties.

Disagreements continue over whether the transmission lines should be buried, who should pay if they are buried, and where to locate the mass of transformers and other electrical equipment used to distribute electricity to individual users.

Holy Cross is scheduled to make a presentation at 2 p.m. today to the Snowmass Village Town Council on possible locations for a new substation.

“I think this is the last best chance to get the town of Snowmass Village to accept that the substation should be adjacent to its existing infrastructure instead of hoisting it out into the wilderness,” said a county official familiar with the negotiations who asked not to be identified.

There are five sites for the substation being considered. Two include areas that are part of the Burnt Mountain elk herd’s winter and spring migration route. Three are located in less biologically sensitive areas but are within sight of many of the village’s pricey homes and condos.

The two more-remote sites are the county-owned open space at the Seven Star Ranch, located along Brush Creek Road, and in Hidden Valley, a town of Snowmass Village property located in the hills immediately north of the Snowmass Club. The old town cemetery is located immediately above the Hidden Valley site, which itself is protected open space.

The three sites located closer to existing infrastructure include the Rodeo grounds, which is also town-owned property; a site farther up Brush Creek Road from the Rodeo grounds that was originally set aside for a school; and on private property behind the Town Center, the current location of town hall and the supermarket.

Mike Segrist, Snowmass Village town manager, said the council has been reluctant to give up a corner of the Rodeo grounds, which was recently purchased with the approval of voters.

The town is formulating a master plan for the Rodeo grounds. Some uses under consideration include continued public parking, a recreation center, a public swimming pool, a new town hall and an expanded visitor information center.

Segrist said the town was also considering some kind of arrangement to relocate the Conoco gas station in front of the supermarket, because redevelopment plans for the property would eliminate it from its existing site.

“Neighbors prefer the Hidden Valley site,” Segrist said. “Visually it’s the least impactful.”

He added that Holy Cross officials are willing to reduce the size of the substation and put it in a building that looks like a barn.

The burgeoning rift between the county and the town can be seen in their different takes on the wildlife value of Hidden Valley:

Segrist told The Aspen Times that “wildlife people say Hidden Valley has very little wildlife use.”

But Pitkin County Open Space and Trails director Dale Will said wildlife people “would tell you that from an ecological point of view, Hidden Valley is as nearly valuable as Seven Star.”

Seven Star was the first major open space purchase along Brush Creek. In 1995, the county open space program paid $1.6 million to purchase 145 acres and placed a conservation easement over another 60 acres. The protected property is used by elk annually as they move from summer grazing to wintering grounds.

There is less disagreement over the desire to bury the transmission lines to the substation. There are several possible routes for above-ground lines, but officials are hoping to find some way to spread the estimated $9 million cost of burying the lines.

“We are working on the economics to try to make it affordable but underground transmission lines are expensive,” said Bob Schultz, a Holy Cross consultant.

As a public utility, Holy Cross has broad authority, through condemnation, to route transmission lines and locate substations just about anywhere it wants. Company officials have indicated, however, that they would rather have the county and the town make up their own minds.

The Snowmass Town Council is not scheduled to make a decision today. Instead, Holy Cross officials plan to discuss the options with the council. It is the first item on the council’s 2 p.m. agenda.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]


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