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Something in the Air

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

But the commissioners' thumbs remained down for other reasons as well. "We specifically asked that they consider alternative siting for the tower," Sheehan says. "It seemed to us that there were other places they could put it."


Jan Wilkins, a Lookout Mountain resident who's the chair of THREAT, couldn't agree more. In her judgment, the topography of her neighborhood makes Lookout Mountain one of the least suitable broadcasting locations imaginable.

"At most tower sites," says Wilkins, another CARE member currently free of health difficulties, "the houses are well below the antennas, so they don't get as direct an impact. [See sidebar, below.] But at Lookout Mountain, there are homes and schools at elevations that are in the direct line of the beam. It's the difference between being sprayed directly by a fire hose and having a little of the water fall on you as it goes over your head. And what's frustrating for us is knowing that there are approved broadcasting sites in the area where it wouldn't be going into people's homes."

True. But the three most mentioned sites -- Mount Morrison, Squaw Mountain and Eldorado Mountain -- all have difficulties of their own, not the least of which would be the tremendous cost of relocation.

And Channel 9's Ogden believes that no amount of money can make up for other flaws. "We have done a reasonable amount of work looking at alternatives, and really none of them approach Lookout Mountain in terms of viability," he says. Adds Channel 6's Morgese, "It gets quite complicated when you're comparing sites, because you have to consider a lot of variables. But typically it's just moving the problem to somebody else's backyard."

That certainly seems to be the case with Mount Morrison, a site near Red Rocks owned by Bear Creek Development Corporation that's logistically attractive to broadcasters but nearly as mired in legal complications as is Lookout Mountain. The two towers that occupy the site are associated with channels 59 and 20, respectively, but while the former is the smaller of the pair, it's currently generating the most litigation. It was built in 1981, seven years prior to the Channel 20 tower, thanks to a special-use permit issued by the county to its original occupant, United Cable. When United abandoned the tower in the early '90s, Bear Creek leased space to occupants who increased its height from sixty feet to 120 feet.

The Genesee Foundation, a neighborhood association whose members have never been excited to have the towers so close to them, saw this as a zoning violation, and filed a complaint with Jefferson County.

The county sided with Genesee, but immediate action was put off when Bear Creek asked for permission to remove the Channel 59 tower and put up two others -- a 300-footer and a 200-footer -- in its place. The county rejected that proposal, and when Bear Creek came back asking for the 300-foot tower only, it was turned away again.

Leo Bradley, Bear Creek's attorney, says the stated reason for the "no" vote was a lack of tenants for the tower, which didn't seem like a good enough justification to him. He's filed two separate lawsuits in Jefferson County District Court, one asking for the judge to overrule the county commissioners' rejection of the new tower, and the other arguing that the zoning complaint against the old one be dismissed. The Genesee Foundation, represented by attorney Scott Albertson, and CARE are listed in both matters as citizen interveners on the side of the county.

The neighborhood groups are also worried about RF levels on Mount Morrison, which are so high that the City of Denver asked Bear Creek to post signs warning anyone getting too close not to enter zones south of the tower. Bradley notes that this area is within FCC limits set for broadcast workers, which are considerably higher than those for the general public, and says hikers, who can be found all over Red Rocks Park during many months of the year, have no business being there. But if any recreationists wander over that way anyhow, there's no fencing to keep them out -- and CARE types don't expect Denver officials to force Bear Creek to build one. After all, the broadcasting devices for the city's police, fire and emergency medical services are mounted on the Channel 20 tower.

Bradley says Bear Creek would love to have more broadcasters on Mount Morrison, which has two important geographic advantages over Lookout Mountain: It's 500 feet higher and a mile closer to Denver. But he understands why they haven't yet taken him up on his kind invitation. "It's all political," he says. "Let's face it."

Squaw Mountain isn't nearly as encumbered by debate because it's in Clear Creek County, not Jeffco. Better yet, from the broadcasters' perspective, there are virtually no homes nearby, and further development is unlikely in the foreseeable future. Plus, the site offers good access and has proven its feasibility through the experiences of KYGO and the Peak, whose antennas are located there. Victoria West, sales director for Squaw Mountain Communications, which owns the site, offers a description of the property that's as straightforward as it can be. "Squaw Mountain is the premier broadcasting location in the area," she says. "And our tests show that it's actually superior to Lookout Mountain."

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