Wallowa County will be left with no cable television service after Oct. 26 because Almega Cable has never paid to use the poles on which its cables are strung, the cable system's former owner says.
Crestview Cable, which sold the system to Almega last November, sued Almega for not paying Verizon and PacificCorp, parent of Pacific Power, for use of their poles. Almega did not contest the suit and Crestview won a judgment of $13,267 plus interest from Oct. 1, according to Roger Harris, vice president of Crestview.
Harris said Almega also never transferred Crestview's pole contracts, so the former owner still has legal responsibility for using the poles.
"Almega can redeem the situation by paying the judgment and transferring the pole agreements," Harris said.
If that doesn't happen, Crestview's parent, California Oregon Broadcasting, Inc., will remove the cables from the poles, discontinuing cable service to customers in Enterprise, Joseph, Wallowa, Lostine and Wallowa Lake.
"If Almega does not transfer the pole contracts and pay the pole rent, COBI must disconnect the cables to avoid further charges from the pole owners," Harris said.
To restore service, Almega would have to install new cables and negotiate new pole contracts, Harris said.
Attempts to obtain a direct response from Almega, which is headquartered in Texas, were unsuccessful.
In phone interviews, Mitch Johnson, Almega's technical manager, first said he was unaware that the rentals hadn't been paid, then said the company was "trying to get in touch with Verizon" to get an invoice for the charges.
Told that his company hadn't responded to the lawsuit, Johnson said he would call back, but didn't by Chieftain press time.
Crestview's notice to its former customers is on the front page of today's Chieftain TV section.
Local officials were stunned by the announcement.
"We don't want to see this happen," said Michele Young, Enterprise city administrator. The city has granted a franchise to Almega as its sole cable operator.
Young said she is attempting to delay the shutdown and arrange a meeting of all those with a stake in keeping the cable system in operation.
Mike Hayward, chairman of county commissioners, said the county has little power to intervene, but indicated he would join the city's effort "to see if there is anything we can do."