Something in the Air

Lookout Mountain is a hot spot in the battle over broadcast emissions.

Such questions are asked regularly in City and Mountain Views, a monthly news magazine for Mount Vernon Canyon dwellers, whose editor and publisher, Carole Lomond, has maintained a steady drumbeat about the dangers of the towers for years. Even Las Vegas's Richard A. Tell, a twenty-year veteran of the EPA and a nationally recognized expert on RF who's serving as a private consultant to Channel 4, recognizes the influence of what he refers to as "that newsletter up there." He deems much of the information published in Views, particularly as it relates to matters of health, to be either unbalanced or inaccurate. But he doesn't deny that it's played a significant role in solidifying the opinions of locals against the broadcasters. "The flavor you get from it is that people are sick and fed up with having the towers up there," he says. "They feel it's supposed to be a residential environment, and they feel the towers aren't consistent with that."

Lomond, for her part, doesn't pretend to be objective. She likens the broadcasters' contention that nonionizing radiation creates no hurtful effects if it remains within FCC guidelines to the once widely accepted beliefs that "DDT and smoking and asbestos don't harm you." A Lookout resident since 1987 (she began publishing Views in 1993), Lomond, who suffers from no ailments commonly related to RF, fervently believes that the proliferation of antennas and other broadcasting devices has spiraled out of control during the past several decades, besmirching a part of the state that is as historically noteworthy as it is beautiful.

"It may appear that I'm obsessed with this," Lomond says, "but this story just hasn't been covered the way it should have been. And at the risk of sounding like an ethical journalist, I thought people had a right to know."

Tower of power: Lookout Mountain has one of the highest concentrations of broadcast towers in the country.
John Johnston
Tower of power: Lookout Mountain has one of the highest concentrations of broadcast towers in the country.

Adventurous sorts have made the foothills home for a very long time; indeed, Mount Vernon was named the seat of government for the provisional territory of Jefferson in 1860, sixteen years before Colorado became a state. By 1890, noted rich person Horace Tabor was ready to exploit the area, hiring Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York City's Central Park, to create a Lookout Mountain resort. Plans called for cabins, trails, a hotel and a funicular (an open-car train) from Golden to what was to be known as "the city on the hill."

That development never happened, but others did. Shortly after the dawn of the new century, John Brisben Walker was busily trying to turn the land that would become Red Rocks Park into a playground for people living in Denver; the Lariat Trail was completed, easing access throughout sizable sections of Mount Vernon Canyon; and several entrepreneurs actually built Olmsted's dreamed-of funicular (it was not a huge success). Other projects followed, and many of them, including the Mother Cabrini Shrine, Buffalo Bill's Grave and Museum, the Boettcher Mansion and the Lookout Mountain Nature Center, remain popular tourist destinations to this day. (Broadcast Blues documents the practical effects the antenna farm has had on several of these attractions: For instance, an electric gate at the Mother Cabrini Shrine sometimes opens all by itself whenever an electronic whim strikes.)

Lookout Mountain's impressive elevation (over 7,000 feet above sea level) and convenience to Denver also attracted the attention of broadcasters. The first batch of towers was installed during the '50s, when Lookout Mountain was sparsely populated but certainly not deserted. Ticked off by suggestions that the towers were present before people were, Lomond pored through old tax roles and discovered that just over 250 homes were scattered across the area by 1948. The volume of humans on the mountain has grown steadily since then, with their numbers exploding of late.

Several broadcasters say that as recently as ten years ago, the routes to the communication sites were rather lonely and uninhabited. They contend that the development of the community was aided immeasurably by the construction of a road network necessitated by the towers.

The antenna population has more than kept pace with the residential growth curve. CARE has attempted to inventory the transmitting devices presently on Lookout Mountain, and its estimated total -- 450-plus -- is downright staggering. But efforts to get a more precise figure have been stymied by an epic confusion of paperwork. Some of the gadgets appear to have the approval of the FCC (which governs the airwaves) but not Jefferson County (which is in charge of the land); some have documentation with the county but may have escaped the notice of the FCC; and still others might not be on file with either body.

Poor record-keeping and the typical flaws inherent in massive bureaucracies may explain away some or all of these mysteries. But attorney Deb Carney, who lives a mile from the towers and is handling the majority of Lookout Mountain's tower-related litigation for THREAT, isn't about to ignore them -- not when they could prove to be such potent weapons against the broadcasters.

One of the first salvos in this regard was fired last November, when Carney and CARE filed a zoning complaint with the Jefferson County Planning Department against Channel 9 for a radar tower and antenna that, as near as anyone can recall, was put in place in the late '70s. The complaint claims that the tower "does not appear to be legal," adding, "There is no evidence that the channel received permission from the Board of Adjustment, the County Commissioners or the Zoning Administrator for the Channel 9 radar tower."

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