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Hawkins Peak project improves Alpine reception

by Karen Dustman
R-C Alpine Bureau

You can’t say Mother Nature made anything easy on the Hawkins Peak project. Start with an elevation higher than 10,000 feet. Factor in 140 mph winds, snows up to 20 feet deep, and temperatures regularly dipping into minus territory. Add zero vehicle access for eight months of the year, and a location so remote that materials and workmen had to be hauled in by helicopter.

So here’s what’s fantastic about the Hawkins site: a 360-degree view that’s a telecommunications dream come true. And all that bedrock — perfect for rock anchors for the tower.

Hawkins Peak has been home to a forest service radio communications facility since the 1960s. But with the old site deteriorating, the Alpine County Sheriff’s Office needed a better solution so they could occupy the site as well.



“Here in our mountains, large sections of Alpine County had absolutely no radio communications,” notes Alpine County Undersheriff Rob Levy. “That meant we had officers in the field who couldn’t radio in during an emergency in remote areas of the county.”

But today, after nearly six years of planning and four years after construction was launched, the brand new communications facility is up and running. Its official name is nearly as long as the mountain is high: the “Hawkins Peak Interoperable Communications Facility.” And as a handful of visitors to the site this week can testify, the site is indeed a marvel.



Inside the generation facility, power from 240 solar panels is ferried to an army of 460 deep-cycle batteries, with a 25 kilowatt generator as backup. A transformer steps the power up to 550 volts before sending it some 1,800 feet to the tip-top of the mountain to run the communications tower.

An inverter at the tower then steps the power back down to 48 volts, and charges another set of batteries which power the communications equipment.

Given the extreme altitude and “mission impossible” construction conditions, the ultimate price tag for the high-tech facility came to just over $5.5 million; electronics alone cost $1.6 million. Just one example of the obstacles overcome: all 16 yards of cement for the communications tower had to be ferried to the site by helicopter, half-a-yard at a time.

Now online, the Hawkins Peak communications system is finally beginning to strut its stuff.

Already the facility provides much-needed emergency radio service for the Alpine County Sheriff’s Office throughout the mountainous region. And there’s been interest from other state and local agencies as well. The Hawkins Peak site could soon provide communications service to such agencies as the California Highway Patrol, California Department of Transportation, the U.S. Forest Service and a cellular phone carrier.

“Once the microwave system is installed, Hawkins Peak will be a link for connecting much of Northern California and across Nevada via Douglas County’s microwave system,” Levy said. “This gives us the ability to communicate not only locally, but with other agencies throughout the region during an emergency. And the installation’s robust design gives it the flexibility to continue to operate unattended for long periods under extremely harsh conditions.”