More Messages: The Latest Tower Tale

In most legal disputes between big business and the general public, business has a huge advantage when it comes to resources and the ability to sustain court challenges over the long term. But that's not the case in the ongoing quarrel between local TV and radio stations and folks who live in the vicinity of broadcasting towers in the foothills west of Denver. The individuals represented by the indefatigable Canyon Area Residents for the Environment (CARE) are financially well off, and have access to lawyers every bit as competent as those on the stations' payroll, if not more so. Their ability, and their doggedness, was underlined again on May 4, when the Colorado Court of Appeals handed CARE yet another legal victory by putting the temporary kibosh on plans to build a horizontal tower on Mount Morrison that was approved by Jefferson County Commissioners in 2003.

The court's decision, which sends the matter back to the Jeffco commissioners, mostly deals with technicalities. For instance, the judges determined that developers shouldn't have been allowed to make changes in the tower plan after public testimony was closed. More interesting, though, is a section dealing with the question of whether alternative tower sites far from homes and humans could substitute for Mount Morrison, which is within spitting distance of Red Rocks Park and a number of burgeoning neighborhoods. Here's an excerpt:

The parties agree the Board did not specifically find that no existing tower sites were adequate to accommodate Developers' proposal, and contrary to the Developers' contention, we conclude the evidence did not compel such a conclusion. The most significant and hotly contested issue at the hearings was whether there was an adequate location for the proposed tower other than Mount Morrison. An expert for the county testified that Squaw Mountain was an adequate location for the proposed tower. The county's planning staff agreed, as did the owners of Squaw Mountain. The Developers' expert testified that a tower on Squaw Mountain would have a weaker signal, would not provide adequate coverage in areas of the front range blocked from the "line of site" [sic] of the tower, and would cause radio frequency interference with existing towers. But he also testified that Eldorado, Lookout, and Chief Mountains would provide adequate coverage. Evidence was also submitted about the changes in technology that might obviate the need for such construction.

Representatives of TV stations that want to build towers on Mount Morrison and Lookout Mountain (the setting of an even nastier tower spat) have long claimed that these are the only workable sites in the area. Yet the paragraph above points out that an expert working for the developers acknowledged that two other locales would do the job just fine. This testimony lends credence to comments made by Golden city manager Mike Bestor for an April column; he said broadcasters had "never shown any willingness to look at alternatives" because towers in the foothills "are going to be least costly to service over their life."

In other words, money, as always, is the issue -- but the fact that CARE has money, too, has leveled the playing field. No wonder the tower battle has gone so deep into overtime. -- Michael Roberts