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Snow hits Pine River Valley
1/11/2008 By: Carole McWilliams
Residents in the Vallecito area and outlying areas northeast of Bayfield hope to have the lights, water, and heat back on today after enduring without power since last weekend.
La Plata Electric Operations Manager Steve Gregg crews started at 5:15 a.m. yesterday energizing main lines in the Vallecito dam area, and crews were working to restore power in the Bear Creek, Beaver Meadows, and Yellowjacket Pass areas.
The main line to those areas goes along Highway 160 east of Bayfield and over a hill. Parts of it are only accessible by snow-cat, he said. Two poles still needed to be replaced, and eight spans of wire in three locations still needed to be repaired as of Thursday morning, he said.
He thought those areas might have power back on Thursday afternoon.
At Vallecito, he said some customers had power back as of Thursday morning, mainly on the east side of the lake and Tucker Lane. But one area near Five Branches needed 4,000 feet of new line still to be put up. He anticipated that would take all day Thursday and possibly into Friday.
Gregg estimated 90 to 95 percent of Vallecito customers would have power by the end of Thursday.
“We’ll clean up the remainder of the lake tonight and tomorrow,” he said.
Power at Lemon Lake was restored on Tuesday, but some customers lost power again Wednesday with the new snow. Those problems were fixed that day, Gregg said.
Heavy wet snow and falling tree branches left customers all around La Plata and Archuleta Counties without power Saturday night, Gregg said. But Vallecito and the northeast part of the county were hit the worst, with the most extensive damage to power lines.
A few power failures started around 9 p.m. Saturday, but the problems really started around midnight and continued getting worse through the night and all day Sunday. Gregg said.
“It was widespread in La Plata and Archuleta Counties – Arboles, the Dry Side, Cherry Creek, south of Bayfield, Oxford. There was no area untouched.” In many cases it was one or two houses while other homes still had power.
Lines went down along Highway 151 from Lake Capote to Arboles, also Turkey Springs and Aspen Springs, north and east of Pagosa, and down the Blanco River area.
“It was devastating how many poles and lines were down,” Gregg said.
The northern mountain areas by Purgatory and north Vallecito actually got off with the least line damage, he said, because it was colder there and the snow wasn’t as wet and heavy.
Danni Lorrigan from the County Office of Emergency Management reported that as of 3 p.m. Sunday, around 4,425 customers were without power.
Power to mountain top radio transmission towers also went out, complicating work by emergency responders such as county road crews. They had to use sheriff’s office frequencies.
Lorrigan reported on Sunday that county snowplow drivers reported 36 to 48 inches of snow in mountain areas. Two plow trucks got stuck.
Power in Bayfield was out until late Sunday afternoon. More areas got power restored on Monday and Tuesday. Gregg said around 95 percent of area-wide customers had power back by midnight Tuesday.
But the problems in the Vallecito area were more extreme, including the top of a large tree that broke off and was hung up in the main lines along County Road 501 south of Coolwater Ranch.
Repair crews got that removed on Wednesday. But Gregg said that “was one of thousands of trees we had to work on. … There were hundreds of other trees to be gotten off lines” at the lake.
Crews worked their way north from the CR 501/ 240 intersection section by section to the dam, the Shoreline Inn, the Community Center, and then all the lines that split off to subdivisions and individual homes, he said.
Around 1,000 customers were affected at Vallecito.
LPEA crews have been helped by power line and tree removal crews from Empire Electric, which had its own power failures to deal with, and crews from several other parts of Western Colorado and from New Mexico, Gregg said.
On Tuesday, animal control officers used snowmobiles to get hay to horses at Granite Peaks Ranch, up the Pine River valley above Vallecito. The horses were being walked out on Thursday.
The Red Cross opened an emergency shelter at Bayfield High School on Sunday evening. It was open on Monday and Tuesday as well because of the continuing power outages. It offered a place for people to get warm, take a shower, or spend the night.
Lorrigan reported that around 66 people spent time at the BHS shelter on Monday, and two spent the night. Fourteen people spent time at the shelter on Tuesday.
The shelter closed Wednesday after dinner, according to a Red Cross worker.
Red Mountain Pass was still closed Thursday morning. Wolf Creek Pass re-opened on Wednesday afternoon.
CDOT representative Nancy Shanks reported that wind and the heavy wet snow made it hard to clear area passes. “Crews battled numerous slides (some exceeding 30 feet high and others as wide as 2,200 feet long on the roadway), including slide paths that have either never run, or that have not run in over 40 years.”
Highway snow removal couldn’t start until slides had run on their own or with encouragement from avalanche control crews, Shanks said.
Emergency contact numbers
Shelter info – American Red Cross Southwest Colorado Chapter, 259-5383
Power failures – LPEA, 247-5786
General info – La Plata County public hotline, 385-8700
Highway info – CDOT, 1-877-315-7623
Southern Ute Tribal member assistance – Southern Ute Dispatch, 563-4401.
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