Pitkin County to begin site repairs for free television service

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

Pitkin County residents in Redstone and the Crystal River Valley who access the free television services the county provides may see an improvement this fall from those services.

Jodi Smith, the facilities project manager for Pitkin County, brought an emergency ordinance before the Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday to allow repairs to the broadcast equipment and power line on Elephant Mountain near Redstone.

In 2004, the county commissioners entered into a 30-year communication lease for the use and maintenance of a communication site on Elephant Mountain to provide a television translator station for Redstone and the Crystal River Valley.

The television service allows access to CGTV, GrassRoots TV and several Denver and Grand Junction commercial stations.

“It’s a free TV service that the Pitkin County translator system provides,” Smith said. “It’s funded by the taxpayers, so anybody who has a television antenna and visual site of the Elephant Mountain translator antennas can get coverage up there.”

Smith said the county has nine sites that Pitkin County residents can access free television from, including Sunlight, Williams and Red mountains. Those sites also are connected to the county’s 911 system.

The three major projects the county hopes to complete by this fall on Elephant Mountain are the replacement of the nearly 3,000-foot low-voltage power line that originally was constructed in 1962, the establishment of a designated helicopter-landing zone and a 57-square-foot addition to the existing equipment shelter on top of the mountain.

Over the years, parts of the original power line absorbed damage from weather, animals and falling rocks.

“Two years ago, when we identified the cable was damaged, we also realized it was a fire hazard for the community,” Smith said. “We repaired the cable where we could and replaced the transformer at the base of the mountain because it was a dangerous situation. We can’t do any more repairs; we need to replace the cable.”

The new power line will be buried in a 6-inch trench when possible. If any portion has to remain exposed, it will be covered in a muted-color covering. The primitive shelter on top of the mountain needs repairs and has to be expanded to house a new generator compatible with the new power line.

The repairs are scheduled to begin Monday with a total project cost of $180,000. The ordinance is presented as an emergency (to become effective immediately upon adoption) to expedite the process of obtaining the requisite signatures from the Forest Service so the project may begin in a timely manner.

Access to and construction at the site are limited from mid-July to mid-October in accordance with U.S. Forest Service and Pitkin County Open Space and Trails requirements. All of the work must be completed as weather permits and before any wildlife migration begins in the fall.

Open Space and Trails owns and manages Filoha Meadows at the base of Elephant Mountain, where the transformer for the communication site currently exists.

The county needs to cross Filoha Meadows to access the transformer and complete some of the cable-replacement work. The county will use a helicopter to haul any equipment needed for upgrades on top of the mountain.

“It’s very remote and difficult to hike to the top of Elephant Mountain,” Smith said. “We need a reliable way to access the equipment at the top of the mountain. If that site fails, we not only lose the television services — we lose some of our emergency communication in that area.”

The commissioners unanimously passed the emergency ordinance. Commissioner George Newman asked if it would be a good idea to add cell towers to the Elephant Mountain site since work was going to be taking place there already. County Manager Jon Peacock said the mountain site actually is too high to provide cell-tower coverage.