Pitkin County to replace TV, radio towers
August 14, 2008
ASPEN ” A set of critical radio and TV towers on Crown Point ” a high ridge that juts between West Sopris Creek and the Emma area in the midvalley ” is about to be modernized.
But it might not happen this year.
Pitkin County commissioners, meeting Wednesday in Aspen, agreed to a plan to replace four towers that provide critical public communications facilities for a wide range of agencies and organizations.
The towers serve the emergency services agencies in Pitkin and Eagle counties and all five of the valley’s fire districts, as well as translator services for eight radio stations and five television stations.
The existing towers, built more than 25 years ago, sit on 15,000 square feet of land leased by Pitkin County from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in 1975.
The tallest of the existing towers is 50 feet, according to a memo from planner Suzanne Wolff to the county commissioners, and next to them is a 900-square-foot equipment shed.
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In their place are to be three new towers, sturdier and more substantial than the old ones. Two of them will be 40 feet tall with antennae that will rise another 10 to 12 feet, and one of them will be 60 feet tall with a 16-foot antennae.
The project also calls for a larger equipment and storage shed, all at the upper end of Stone Road, which cuts off from West Sopris Creek Road. It would still service the existing clients, as well as have room for several cellular telephone networks, and officials hope lease payments from such private businesses may help to offset the costs of the project.
The site sits about 750 feet from the nearest house in the West Sopris Ranch subdivision, formerly known as Terliamis Tracks, and the facilities were described as “dilapidated” and badly in need of repair by County Commissioner Rachel Richards after a site visit.
“It’s in a disastrous state,” declared Brad Manosevitz, representing the country’s translator advisory board. “It is hanging on by a thread.”
But although there is agreement that repairs are needed, there are numerous potential problems associated with the plan.
High on the list is the expectation that the taller towers and bigger storage building might be more visible from the floor of the Roaring Fork Valley, although they apparently are not expected to be visible from the nearby subdivision. The towers exceed the county’s 40-foot height limitation, and will need to get the blessing of the Board of Adjustment.
Representatives of the Town of Basalt, according to Wolff, were “clearly concerned” when they wrote in a letter that “the current proposal may compromise “scenic” policies stated in the Pitkin County Land Use Code. The town’s letter called the proposal “somewhat excessive in terms of infrastructure, bulk and height.”
Richards suggested the county consider planting trees around the site to hide the towers and the building.
But among the concerns expressed about the plans is the potential for wildfire in the area, which some felt would be enhanced by the planting of trees on the windswept, dry ridge.
“It doesn’t sound too common-sense to me,” remarked Commissioner Dorothea Farris.
There is the possibility of added visual impact from warning lights on top of the towers, if lights are required by the Federal Aviation Administration due to the site’s proximity to a flight corridor.
And then there are the neighbors, who, while not opposed to the plans, want to make sure the county realizes it has to use their private road for access. And they want the county to pony up after what the neighbors say has been 15 years of nonpayment of its obligations.
Dick Hampleman, a Stone Road resident speaking for the neighborhood homeowners association, said the county signed an agreement about 14 years ago to share in the maintenance costs for the road in return for use of the road to reach the translators. But the county never has contributed, Hampleman said.
“It’s not fair,” Hampleman said of the situation, noting in particular that the county is thinking of getting some income from deals with cell phone companies.
“We just need some help, and … to get caught up from the time you should have been involved.” The homeowners also asked that the county take over the weed management program for the neighborhood, and send its road graders up Stone Road whenever they are working on West Sopris Creek Road.
Wolff said some of that is included in the county’s plans, and the commissioners directed the staff to make sure of it.
Commissioners Patti Clapper and Farris both seemed to take exception to the complaints of the neighbors.
“The impact on the whole community is enormous if we don’t do this,” Clapper said, referring to the potential loss of emergency communications if the facility fails.
And Farris said, “What we’re doing here is a balance between what we really need, and what we may not need, but want,” referring to the need for the communications equipment and the public clamoring for better cell phone coverage up and down the valley.
She said that not too long ago no one was chatting on cell phones as they drove up and down the valley, and declared, “I think we need to keep in mind that we’re trying to accommodate something that some of us would rather not accommodate.”
Donnie Mitchell, the architect on the project and the county’s technical advisor, said the project should take between six and eight weeks of construction, with some time at the end for revegetaion and cleanup work.
But Temple Glazier of the Pitkin County Public Works Department said that while the department would like to get the work started this summer, “It might not happen until next year.”