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Storm created havoc on Josephine County mountaintop

When a snowstorm dumped on Southern Oregon during the morning of Dec. 13, the weight of wet snow started snapping limbs, which fell on power lines.

That kept a brigade of Pacific Power workers busy for days, and also made Steve Porter's life way more interesting.

Porter and his wife, Barbara, own Sis-Q Communications, which operates seven communications facilities on six mountains in the region, serving law enforcement, emergency services, radio, television and cellular equipment.

Porter's equipment on Elk, Fielder, Eight Dollar, King and Onion mountains kept on humming during the storm.

Not so on Gilbert Peak, at 3,271 feet due north of Grants Pass, uphill from Granite Hill Road, where translators for KCMD-FM, KTVL-TV, Jefferson Public Radio, Outreach Internet, an amateur radio club and others are located.

All of them went down for anywhere from three to six days, as Porter and others hiked in snow carrying packs with equipment and pole saws.

"In my 40-year career, this is the longest and most equipment that's gone out under my watch," said Porter. "Probably 80 percent of the county uses some of the services up there. Everybody was understanding and patient. They knew I was doing everything possible."

At least 1,500 Outreach wireless Internet users were out of luck, along with fans of oldies on KCMD.

"Most of them were pretty understanding," said KCMD co-owner Don Monette.

Over-the-air KTVL/CBS viewers have had intermittent service even after service at Porter's facility was restored, because of power outages at Mount Ashland, the station's main transmitter, said Kingsley Kelley, KTVL general manager.

Diesel mechanics were on top of the summit Wednesday trying to fix a generator, he said.

Porter's woes all started two days after winds of 70 mph were recorded on Onion Mountain on Dec. 11. Porter said power went off to the top of Gilbert when the top of a madrone tree snapped off and slid down a power line, shorting out a high-voltage feed from the power line to the top of the mountain.

With the access road under several feet of snow, Porter and Eric Werner of Eric's Tree Service had to walk in to clear trees for two days. A fuse was replaced at the base of the mountain, but the one on top was also out and had to be replaced, which created another delay.

Porter said the reason his Gilbert Peak facility went out and the others stayed on is the large number of trees on Gilbert, while the others are sparse at their summits. Gilbert has the lowest elevation of the six mountains at which he has facilities.

"In the 30 years I've been up here I haven't seen this degree of limbs breaking," he said.

Unfortunately Gilbert is one of his facilities that doesn't have its own generator, but soon will.

"I'll be adding a generator up there," said Porter, who looks at his work dealing with the elements as a big adventure.

"This is Oregon, this is my life."

Eric Werner of Eric's Tree Service saws limbs on top of a power pole on Gilbert Peak north of Grants Pass, where snow knocked out communications last week. Photo by STEVE PORTER