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OFF LIMITS

Duty and the beast: Establishing a herd of buffalo out by Denver International Airport remains a top priority for the city (see story this page). But the animals themselves might have a beef with that.

Buffalo are sensitive to noise, says Southwestern food expert Sam Arnold, and loud sounds can have a particularly adverse effect on male animals. Specifically, the rush of planes could prevent them from getting fully into the breeding process--which would wreak havoc with a species that's taken a long time to bounce back from near-extinction (a recovery further hampered by the fact that cows can pop out only one offspring per year).

And Arnold knows his buffalo breeding apparatus: At The Fort restaurant, he sells purses made out of buffalo scrotums, and he bestows a petrified buffalo penis upon unsuspecting diners celebrating birthdays (it looks like a yard-long walking cane). Other outfits offer a full line of accessories for bison themselves, including ear plugs, but Arnold says plugs wouldn't be an ideal solution for animals buffaloed by airport noise. (Arnold, by the way, thinks he has the ideal solution for DIA's predecessor: Turn Stapleton into a prison.)

But Will McFarlane, a buffalo rancher and Denver Buffalo Company restaurateur who's talked with the city about its proposal for a herd at DIA, thinks that aircraft sounds won't pose a problem. "The noise is so far up, it won't bother them," he says.

Try telling that to all DIA's complaining Adams County neighbors.

Herd journalism: It wasn't bison that caught the NBC peacock's eye last week, when the network's nightly news featured DIA in its "Fleecing of America" series. This time reporter Roger O'Neil was digging into Denver's breaking ground on a sixth runway, since the city has ten million federal dollars that it must either spend or surrender. DIA's original plans called for a half-dozen runways, but as the airport's price tag went up that number was scaled back to five--still more than enough, the city promised, to ensure that the $5 billion airport was an "all-weather facility."

Then all that weather hit October 22. "If we had a sixth runway," Denver officials pronounced, those delays could have been avoided--and the city started digging, despite the fact that finishing the runway will cost another $60 million. "We're not sure" where the money will come from, aviation director Jim DeLong admitted to O'Neil. The airlines are balking at increased costs, and Congress has already said the well is dry.

Say, wasn't it the runway to hell that was paved with good intentions?
This isn't the first time that O'Neil has given the city a few well-deserved digs. Back when the Broncos lost their third Super Bowl, his report on the city's humiliation noted that Denver had never been number one in anything other than air pollution. City boosters responded by pointing out that Denver had the world's largest Laundromat, as well as the nation's highest per capita vitamin consumption.

This Sunday, the New York Times added another laurel: Denver is tops in the country for library-card holders. Unfortunately, that fact led off a story about city and state officials' skirmish to stop the "Ultimate Fight"--still set for Saturday, but now slated for Mammoth Gardens instead of the Denver Coliseum.

That compromise is hardly a knockout, however: Mammoth Gardens has received so many subsidies from the city, it might as well be a public facility.

 
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