This off-season, city officials are aiming to finish an interrupted geothermal test-drilling project in the parking lot of the Prockter Open Space on the east side of town.
The Aspen City Council had agreed to allow drilling to begin today. But project leaders won’t be breaking ground as expected, as they continue to work on details, and hope to give neighbors ample warning before the project’s return.
“We still don’t have a date or a time set to start,” said Sam Irmen, of the city water department, who is overseeing the project’s reboot.
The city-backed geothermal project has been in the works for years, as local government officials hope to tap the renewable energy source.
A city study found, in 2008, that water below town may be as warm as 140 degrees. If it’s hotter than 100 degrees, it could be used to heat homes or offices. City officials hope to successfully tap such hot water in at least two test sites before attempting to generate geothermal energy.
During the first test site attempt in the Prockter parking lot, in November and early December, drillers reached just beyond their goal of 1,000 feet underground, but failed to hit any water. Preliminary estimates showed they would hit water before that depth.
Drillers, from California-based Dan’s Water Well & Pump Service, are now cleared to go as deep as 1,500 feet.
No matter when drilling gets going, the council has placed a May 25 deadline on the project. City officials are trying to address concerns about noise and inconvenience from neighbors, by doing work during the off-season. Last fall, the city promised neighbors they would finish drilling before the winter tourism season — when some were renting out their homes.
The agreement forced drillers to pack up the job before they’d hit water. Memorial Day weekend is now a similarly strict deadline for the second time around.
“What we do know is we’ll be completed and the site will be restored by the 25th of May,” Irmen said.
David Hornbacher, the city’s director of utilities and environmental initiatives, said he thought a month of drilling time should be ample to hit water this spring.
“I believe we should be able to get it done, based on what we’ve seen,” he said. “But beneath the ground, we don’t always know what’s going on.”
On top of the original project budget of $172,850, project managers have secured up to $40,000 of supplemental city funds. The state last year gave a $50,000 grant for the project.
For the extra work, the city will be paying the driller $68 per foot until they reach water, according to Hornbacher.
The second drill attempt is approved to look much like the first: a 3,500-square-foot surface operation surrounding a foot-wide hole. The council and the city open space board stressed the need to get the project wrapped up before the Memorial Day weekend, for neighbors and patrons of nearby Herron Park. The drilling site is in the parking lot across Neale Avenue from the park, on the banks of the Roaring Fork River.