Cirque Meadows by Adam Johnson

Bald Mountain Common Questions

What is the County proposing?

Larimer County Law Enforcement is proposing a public safety radio facility to be built on the summit of Middle Bald Mountain. The facility would consist of a 60 foot tower, a 108 square foot modular building and an outdoor mounted standby diesel generator.

For comparison, a similar site (Bull Mountain) is shown to the right (foreground tower and building only).

Final design characteristics will not be known until the County reviews any conditions resulting from the USFS / National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) evaluation process.

Where is Middle Bald Mountain?

Middle Bald Mountain is located approximately 40 miles northwest of Fort Collins and approximately five miles southwest of the Red Feather Lakes area in the NE1/4 of the NE1/4 of Section 9, Township 9 North, Range 74 West. lat/long 40-45-56.5 N 105-42-27.0 W.

The summit of Middle Bald Mountain, approximately 10,900 feet above sea level, is accessible via the Killpecker Creek Trail. The nearest motorized access is within approximately 1/4-mile of the summit on low-standard National Forest System Road 517 (NFSR 517).

Why is the facility needed?

Poor public safety radio communications has been an issue in the Poudre Canyon, and the mountainous portion of Larimer County for many years. This facility will be designed to address this deficiency and provide increased radio communications coverage for emergency personnel and law enforcement agencies.

Why Middle Bald Mountain?

The criteria used to identify a possible communications facility are:

  1. Radio coverage of the area
  2. Line of sight microwave connectivity to an existing facility
  3. Feasibility of grid power access
  4. Feasibility of road/track access.

Middle Bald Mountain meets all these criteria. Middle Bald was not the County's preferred choice however. It is actually the third choice. The first and second choices (South Bald Mtn and the unnamed peak directly east) are both in an inventoried roadless area. Larimer County submitted a proposal to the USFS for a facility on South Bald Mountain, which would provide the best coverage, in early 2003. This proposal was rejected at first level screening due to the roadless area rule in effect at the time.

What will it cost?

Because of the nature of the approval process an exact cost is difficult to determine. A typical site like the one pictured above, including tower, shelter, generator and all radio electronics costs approximately $500k. Cost considerations for a site on Middle Bald Mountain would include road construction, power line construction, any special civil engineering costs for tower or shelter construction due to difficult terrain or conditions specified by the USFS.

What will power lines cost?

Typical power lines (poles) cost about $35,000 per mile. Buried power lines cost $212,000 per mile or more depending on difficulty or terrain and how much blasting may be required. The shortest distance to available power is about 6 miles. The longest distance is about 12 miles. So, power line costs could run between $210,000 and $2,544,000 depending on what power line method and routing is specified by the USFS.

What is the process?

  1. Larimer County submits a proposal to the USFS for the facility.
  2. The USFS performs two levels of screening. If the proposal meets all screening criteria it is accepted as an application.
  3. The NEPA process begins. An Environmental Assessment(EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is conducted.
  4. At the conclusion the USFS makes the following decisions:
    1. Is the facility compatible with the forest management plan
    2. What type of facility will it be: FS only, Govt only, Low Power/non-broadcast, Low Power, and Anything (includes low and high power)
    3. What mitigation (if any) will be required
    4. Will the facility be authorized
  5. If approved by the USFS, Larimer County would then be able to conduct site specific civil engineering studies to determine power line and construction costs. A final design and detailed cost estimates will be determined.
  6. At this point a Location and Extent application is submitted for review to the Larimer County Planning Department. The Larimer County Planning Commission will act on this application.
  7. Once through the Larimer County Planning Commission, the proposal will go the Board of County Commissioners for final approval and funding.

Will there be a navigation light on the tower?

No navigation light is required for a tower this size.

Why a 60 foot tower?

The 60 foot tower height is based on standard design criteria. In accordance with FCC guidelines the lowest radiating antenna needs to be 30 feet above ground. A vertical separation of 20' minimum is needed between the 800 Mhz transmit and receive antennas. This brings the tower to 50'. An additional 10' is added for other antennas (VHF paging, voice, etc.) for a total of 60'. The tower height can be reduced with more detailed engineering if the facility is approved for construction.

Could we use satellite radio instead?

There is no satellite based system available now or in the foreseeable future that will provide the same reliability, coverage, interoperability and economy as terrestrial based land mobile radio. Satellite systems such as Sirius use space based transmitters emitting about 2 million watts of power to reach terrestrial receivers. Even then the signal cannot penetrate buildings or vehicles. Some good resources relating to satellite radio can be found on the Satellite Industry Associations resource page. Especially relevant is the First responder's Guide.

Could we build a series of towers up the Cache La Poudre Canyon?

The County looked at that possibility. It would take at least five communications sites in the canyon to provide the same coverage as Middle Bald Mountain. At a basic cost of $500k this comes to $2.5 million. With the unknown costs for power, land acquisition, civil engineering and construction, NEPA process, etc and the difficulty of getting these sites approved in Colorado's only wild and scenic river, this option is not practical. The ongoing support, maintenance and replacement costs for multiple sites would also be greater than for one central site.

Additional questions and answers

In reading over the info in the new Bald Mountain web page, I have found what seems like an error in the 'Common Questions' section and concerns the 'cost per mile' for above ground power line(poles): (added 10/29/09)

"What Will Power Lines Cost? - Typical power lines (poles) cost about $35,000 per mile. Buried power lines cost $212,000 per mile or more depending on difficulty or terrain and how much blasting may be required."

The cost in a March 2008 estimate from REA was $70,000 per mile, not $35,000 per mile as stated in the Q&A. Which is correct?

Answer: Larimer County spokes with the Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association, PVREA, who worked on this during the National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA, process. They said:

Typical power lines (single-phase power wiring and poles which we would use) cost about $37,000 per mile, according to the Poudre Valley Rural Electric Authority (PVREA) cost model for 2009. To install power lines over very, very rough terrain with three-phase power wire and poles, (which we don't use) could drive the cost up $70,000 per mile. Buried power lines cost $212,000 per mile or more depending on difficulty or terrain and how much blasting may be required. The shortest distance to available power is about 6 miles. The longest distance is about 12 miles. So, cost estimates for power line installation could run between $222,000 and $2,544,000 depending on what power line method and routing is specified by the USFS.

The county bald mountain project website cites the Wild and Scenic designation of the Poudre River as a reason not to place public safety transmitters along this long-developed highway corridor and use proposed mountain summits. (added 10/29/09)

From my research, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act..."prohibits federal support for actions such as the construction of dams or other in-stream activities that would harm the river's free-flowing condition, water quality, or outstanding resource values."

In other words, the act has no bearing, in language or spirit, on this project. Could you please explain how it is otherwise, or make adjustments to your website and other public communication?

Answer: You are correct on this, the Wild and Scenic Act has no bearing on county activities as you state.

However, since several of the sites required to cover the Poudre canyon would need to be built on USFS lands the USFS felt that the Wild and Scenic River designation, although not regulatory in this circumstance, would lead to opposition by environmental interests due to concerns about the view sheds and other natural amenities in this wild and scenic corridor.

Bull Mountain facility

Map of Bald Mountain

Background Image: Cirque Meadows by Adam Johnson. All rights reserved.