Plans for a Southern California Edison (SCE) project took flight last week as maintenance and replacement of the Agnew tram system, located within the Rush Creek drainage southwest of Silver Lake, began with plans to continue construction and repair through next year. The tramline, which runs to Agnew Lake and Gem Lake, serving the SCE hydroelectric power plants at each, was built in 1915. It is located within the Mono Lake Ranger District of Inyo National Forest.
SCE aims to update the tramline “for reliability and safety,” said Forest Service Specialist Sheila Irons. At present, the nearly 100 year-old track system is, she said, “a maintenance nightmare.”
The track currently uses a hoist and cable system to pull the flatbed car that provides transportation to the hydroelectric facilities, Irons explained, which requires a hoistman operator. The new system will allow for a self-propelled, diesel powered cart.
The Agnew tram project will continue over several phases, explained SCE representative Dan Brady: the first, which began on Sunday, June 9, will focus on reinforcing a retaining wall that the track runs over, to prepare the wall for the increased demand of a new tram system.
On July 10, the project will shift gears, with an increase in reliance on helicopters to begin lifting out old tracks and ties before SCE crews trench and replace the current above ground power lines with a below ground conduit. Brady noted that the greatest noise impact from these helicopter flights will occur from July 10-Sept. 9, with an average of 25 flights a day, and as many as 48 flights a day during the peak of construction. “It’s going to be noisy,” he said. However, helicopters are necessary to complete the work, given the limited access to the project area.
June Lake residents expressed concern with the noise impact during Brady’s presentation at a recent June Lake Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting. One audience member questioned the impact to the residential community at Silver Lake, with some helicopter flights projected to begin as early as 6 a.m.
“If we find out that it’s too intrusive, too noisy, we’ll work with you to try to mitigate that to the best of our ability,” Brady replied.
CAC member Jil Stark pointed out that summer is also the height of tourist season in June Lake, and wondered about the impact to fishing at Silver Lake. Brady assured her that biological surveys suggest the project will have no negative impact on the fish population, and that SCE will work with other summer businesses, like packers, to mitigate impacts.
“We don’t want someone getting bucked off, or some type of injury from a horse or a mule getting spooked,” he said.
In addition, Brady and Irons have conducted meetings with resort owners to offer information and receive questions and concerns regarding the project. “They’re very cooperative,” Irons said of business owners in the area; “They understand it needs to be done.”
Brady promised that while packers and hikers might expect some short delays on the trail during construction, the trail would remain open through the summer. Wind and weather dependent, the project will take approximately 180 days, continuing sometime next year, he said, and will include work on Saturdays and Sundays.
The June Lake Ski Area parking lot will be used as a staging area for this operation.