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Tower Failure

Community groups and broadcasters widen their battle over proposed tower construction.

Despite their philosophical kinship, however, CARE and the Eldorado crowd don't always see eye to eye. Carney was particularly outraged over testimony before the Jeffco planning commission last year by Claire Levy, a onetime Jefferson County assistant attorney and present Eldorado-area resident who emphasized that Lookout Mountain remained a viable spot to place a digital tower. For her part, Levy feels she was misinterpreted. "I didn't mean that it was a good idea," she says. "I don't really have an opinion on that. I just meant that it's still possible legally and practically, and I didn't want the commissioners to view Eldorado as a solution to Lookout Mountain."

Chris Wood, a trustee with an association affiliated with the Coal Creek Canyon HOA, feels that tension between the groups was fostered by Pinnacle Towers. "From the very beginning, they tried to pit the communities against each other. For one thing, they presented a study that tried to show that the property impact of a tower on Lookout Mountain would be higher than it would be in Coal Creek Canyon -- the implication being that they should put the tower on Eldorado Mountain. But to me, that type of approach is incredibly counterproductive. We just wish they'd focus on the issues."

The attorney for Pinnacle, Joseph Benkert, insists that his employer is doing just that, and he rejects the charge that anyone has tried to undermine neighborhood groups by tricking them into distracting squabbles. But whatever the case, there's no doubt that the anti-tower bloc has been uncommonly effective -- and experience has played a large role in its success. In 1981, Boulder's Flatiron Sand and Gravel Company applied to mine land near Eldorado Mountain, but the request was denied two years later in the face of widespread community objections. Golden-based Asphalt Paving eventually asked Jefferson County for permission to build a quarry in the same spot, but it, too, was rebuffed after participants in the Coal Creek Canyon HOA, including Wood and numerous veterans of the Flatiron struggle, raised a stink ("Digging In," October 7, 1999).

These same players, all of whom want to preserve the beauty of the mountain backdrop, are currently staring down Pinnacle, and Benkert acknowledges that their efforts to date have been primarily responsible for the chilly reception his firm has received from the planning commission. For instance, the tower challengers individually contacted every local TV station in an attempt to learn if any of them had made a deal with Pinnacle to put digital antennas on Eldorado Mountain, and they received negative replies from each. (Benkert says that "broadcasters have committed to our site," but he won't say which ones or how many.) Opponents received another boost from Boulder congressman Mark Udall, who fears that transmissions could disrupt a "quiet zone" over Boulder that's maintained for testing by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And they also managed to convince the Coal Creek Canyon Fire Protection District to line up against the Pinnacle plan on the grounds of potential fire danger exacerbated by the relative ruggedness and steepness of the road leading to the site.

Benkert believes these concerns are considerably overstated, but Pinnacle's new bid takes several of them into account: The number of towers has been reduced from three to one (but with an option to put up two more in the future), a heliport has been eliminated, and the size and capacity of a proposed 40,000-gallon diesel-fuel tank have been cut in half. Despite these changes, Benkert still regards approval from the planning commission to be "an uphill climb. After all, its earlier decision represented more the perception of the facts shown by the people testifying than what we were actually proposing. Ultimately, though, I think we'll prevail, because I believe we have the best proposal of any of the sites in the metro area, and the one that best serves the health concerns of citizens in Jefferson County."

Health dangers are the most difficult aspect of the tower controversy to quantify. Since nonionizing radiation has been shown to be harmful at intensities that heat the body (scientists call it "the thermal effect"), the FCC upholds safety standards for radio frequencies, or RF. But there's no consensus about the risks inherent in RF exposure at lower levels, with some studies showing no detrimental consequences and others hinting at connections to numerous maladies, including several virulent forms of cancer. Numerous Lookout Mountain residents have either become sick or died from some of these illnesses, but such evidence is considered anecdotal.

More definitive information may be provided by an ongoing Colorado State University study of 300 Lookout Mountain residents that should be completed in 2004, and the folks at CARE have urged broadcasters not to push ahead at either Lookout Mountain or Mount Morrison until its conclusions are published. But Jack Lambiotte, chief engineer for Clear Channel-Denver, who predicts that the application to replace the KISS tower won't go before the Jeffco planning commission because it fits within Clear Channel's permit for the site, sees no reason to wait. "A new tower will improve the RF situation," Lambiotte says. "We're up against the FCC limits now, but a new tower will not only get us up to full power, it will substantially reduce the RF." He adds, "I want to be as good a neighbor as possible."

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