Reservoir Hill chairlift: one report says ‘no,’ another says ‘yes’


By Ed Fincher

Staff Writer

As budgetary debates continue in Pagosa Springs, with an eye on how town government plans to spend taxpayer dollars in 2013, the proposed development on Reservoir Hill remains one of the issues in the forefront, specifically concerning the Chuchara chairlift and whether or not it is appropriate for use on the hill.

An e-mail from Chuck Peterson of Tramway Engineering, LTD., sent to WCSA owner Davey Pitcher, was forwarded recently to The SUN. The e-mail included Peterson’s official report, which had been commissioned by the Town of Pagosa Springs to analyze the feasibility of installing the chairlift.

The report, addressed to Town Tourism Committee Chairman Bob Hart and dated March 28, 2011, stated, “On March 3rd I met with you and the members of your committee to discuss the possibilities of installing a chairlift on property owned by the Town of Pagosa. During my visit I had the opportunity to walk the proposed lift alignment with you. The alignment would provide passenger access between a small existing pocket park located above the Pagosa Hot Springs and a forested area on a minor ridge.

“The alignment is approximately 1151 feet long with a vertical rise of approximately 235 feet. The purchased lift had a horizontal length of 800 feet with a rise of 111 feet. The new alignment is 50% longer and has 211% more vertical than the original alignment.”

The report continued to bring up more concerns about the difference between how the lift was designed for use at the Chuchura Ski Area and how it was proposed for use on Reservoir Hill. “Because the alignment (at Chuchura) had a uniform profile, the lift only had to have three evenly spaced towers in addition to the terminals. In addition, the size of the electric motor, drive, braking and gearbox were selected for the original alignment.

“The profile grade (on Reservoir Hill) is not as uniform as the original profile grade. The new alignment will require 8 towers including two compression towers. The purchased lift has only 6 of the required 16 sheave assemblies. In addition, even at a reduced capacity, the size of the electric motor, drive, brakes and gearbox are not compatible with the selected alignment. The commitment to utilizing the purchased lift may not be wise because of the need to find additional line and machine room compatible components. For this reason the purchased lift is not a good match with the proposed alignment.”

In his e-mail to Pitcher, Peterson explained further, “I talked to David Mitchem, Pagosa town manager, about the tram.  He felt that my presentation and report was not encouraging enough about using the Cuchara lift or for a successful project.  I stood by my report and explained that he needs a compatible used lift that is longer and has more vertical than the Cuchara lift.  He was undeterred.  He said that they hired another engineer (supposedly a CPTSB Inspector) who said that if you replaced enough components and found matching towers and assemblies, it may be possible to use the existing equipment.  I tried to explain that I would feel uncomfortable using unmatched 40 year old used components to design a fully loaded downloading lift. I don’t think he understands.”

Shari Pierce, a town council member at that time, said the town council was neither given Peterson’s report nor made aware of its existence when the Reservoir Hill proposal was discussed. Mayor Ross Aragon confirmed he was also unfamiliar with Peterson’s report.

“I knew that there would have to be some kind of modification,” Aragon admitted. “I think we all knew that. But, no, I was not aware of that,” Aragon said of Peterson’s report.

Instead, the town council was given another report, prepared by James Bunch of Shea Carr Jewell Engineering and Planning Services, which provided a much more optimistic assessment. Bunch’s report, also addressed to Hart and dated Aug. 16, 2011, stated, “The lift that you have acquired is a nice little lift with relatively few hours. It has 7400 hours on the meter. It was built in 1984, but operated for only a few of those years.”

While this second report did go on to spell out an extensive list of modifications that would be required to make the chairlift work, it concluded by stating, “With this list of issues, the lift has some very strong points. It has low use and was removed in a clean and workman like manner. It is on your property and the major parts appear to be complete and stored in an orderly manner. It is a Colorado lift, so the documents and operating history are relatively known. It has a drive machine and terminal that is about the right size for your operation. The used lift market is not very favorable for buying a different machine for this location. I do not know of any better machine available for your application.”

Both reports indicated estimated costs of $500,000 for a chairlift on Reservoir Hill — in the first report, for an alternative chairlift, in the second for installation of the Cuchara lift on the hill.

Mitchem explained, “I’m not sure the town council saw the first report when it came out. I don’t think they did. Really, the Town Tourism Committee had been asked to take the lead on that, and so they were the ones working on it. I think Shari’s right: They probably didn’t see that originally because they had asked the Town Tourism Committee to do it. They vetted the reports and presented to town council a final recommendation.”

Mitchem admitted that it wasn’t until the town council retreat on Aug. 17, 2012, when certain council members requested more information, that they were finally shown both engineering reports. While Aragon does not recall seeing specific engineering reports, Mitchem claims the information was presented at the retreat.

“We got mixed signals on the first one,” Mitchem said, “because when he first came and talked to us he was actually quite positive, and then when we got the report it wasn’t as positive, so that’s the rationale behind getting two reports. The second report provided a more tangible money scenario as to what it would take to make this chairlift work on The Hill.”