The long-running battle over a Lookout Mountain antenna farm has been declared at an end numerous times in recent years -- and this weekend's developments precipitated the loudest victory claims to date from those supporting the construction of a new broadcasting tower in the area. During the waning days of the current congressional session, Republican Senator Wayne Allard, joined by Democratic counterpart Ken Salazar, quietly pushed through a bill that overrode local objections to the new structure, which is intended to provide digital-TV signals to Denver-area viewers by 2009 -- a deadline set by the Federal Communication Commission. President George W. Bush is expected to sign the legislation shortly.
This move was certainly bad news for tower opponents, including the city of Golden and members of Canyon Residents for the Environment (CARE), a neighborhood organization in the Lookout Mountain area. But those who expect these parties to simply give up and go away in the face of a federal mandate are engaging in wishful thinking. There's no quit in the anti-tower forces, who'll use every legal weapon at their disposal to prevent the edifice from rising. And their track record demonstrates that they shouldn't be taken lightly.
In 2000, when Westword published "Something in the Air," a sprawling feature article about the tower controversy, the issue had already dragged on for several years.
Tower opponents such as CARE attorney Deb Carney were particularly fearful of adverse health effects from radio-frequency emissions on nearby residents. Anecdotal evidence suggested a link to cancer, but enough doubt about a definitive connection remained for tower backers to dismiss such claims as inconclusive. Hence, CARE and Golden mounted court challenges to the tower based mainly on safety concerns and aesthetics. Most recently, as described in this Messagecolumn
from April, Golden officials came up with the idea of using eminent domain to seize the land on which the tower was to be built and designate it for open space.
The new law ostensibly squashes this effort. In a statement justifying his action, Allard said: "This legislation will ensure more than 600,000 Denver metro area residents who do not have cable TV or satellite TV will be able to receive free over the air digital TV... The choice is simple: we go digital or we go dark. �Going dark is not an option for the many Colorado households who rely on free over-the-air broadcasts for news, emergency alerts, and entertainment — particularly those who cannot afford satellite or cable."
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Colorado City & Mountain Views, a Lookout Mountain-area publication that remains viriulently against the tower, phrases things differently. A December 10 update is headlined: "Denver TV stations purchase Colorado Senators to enable control of local land use from Washington D.C."
Views doesn't feature a photo of Allard and Salazar receiving a cash payment, but there's no denying that area broadcasters are mighty powerful -- and this muscle may well have helped inspire the senators' bipartisanship on the tower issue. Even so, CARE isn't out of options. Because it's based in an upper-income community, the group has the resources and wherewithal to take the fight up the judicial ladder. There's no telling at this point whether the usurping of local rights will result in a judge or judges siding with area residents, but there certainly seems to be legal grounds for further review, especially given that there are alternative sites for the tower that wouldn't put so many humans in the line of radio-frequency fire.
In other words, the controversy isn't over yet, no matter how much Allard, Salazar and every major Denver broadcaster would like it to be. -- Michael Roberts