Hearings Ordered for Colorado DTV Tower

Stations looking to consolidate transmission sites meet resistance
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Stations looking to consolidate transmission sites meet resistance

DENVER

A plan to build a 730-foot digital TV "supertower" on Lookout Mountain west of Denver has been put on hold by a district court judge. The Lake Cedar Group (LCG) consortium behind the new four-station DTV transmission facility must once again face public hearings in August.

The lawsuit against the Jefferson County commissioners and LCG was filed by a Lookout Mountain community organization and fronted by the City of Golden, situated directly below the mountain. Jeffco District Judge R. Brooke Jackson ruled March 26 that county commissioners must hold new public hearings on the DTV proposal because LCG filed significant documents about the project too late for adequate responses by opponents.

The first hearing is slated for Aug. 12.

Lake Cedar Group represents the efforts of four Denver-area stations-KCNC Ch. 4 (CBS), KMGH Ch. 7 (ABC), KUSA Ch. 9 (NBC), and KTVD Ch. 20 (UPN)-to build one digital transmission tower to replace their four existing analog towers on the mountain. LCG's proposal included constructing an innovative facility to house the co-located transmission gear of all four stations.

POTENTIAL DANGERS

At the core of the lawsuit is a challenge to the county's rezoning of the site to permit the new construction. Residents questioned the potential dangers of guy wires whip-lashing out like fly-fishing line if the tower collapsed, from falling ice during Colorado winters, and the potentially harmful health effects of non-ionizing radiation from the tower's high-power transmitters.

"We prepared and submitted nine documents over a month-and-a-half during the hearing process in response to questions and concerns by the commissioners and county citizens," said LCG representative Marv Rockford, a partner in Rockford Gray, a public relations firm Rockford helped found after leaving the job of general manager at KCNC in August 2002.

"Judge Jackson ruled that the process did not give opponents adequate time to review the documents and respond to our submissions before the county made a decision," Rockford said. "We believe that we followed commonly accepted practices for any public hearings, but we understand his point, and we're happy to have an opportunity at another hearing to make sure everybody has had adequate time to review our submissions. We want to make sure that we are clearly understood."

Tim Cox, assistant Jefferson County attorney said that rezoning regulations prohibit the introduction of substantial changes to a project less than 21 days before a public hearing.

"There were 17 sets of documents submitted by Lake Cedar Group in response to direct inquiries," he said. "The court found that some of the information submitted less than 21 days before the final hearing last August did constitute substantial changes to the proposal, so there needs to be an opportunity for public comment."

Cox stressed that the legal issue is "the timing of the documents, not the subject of the documents."

However, he said, Judge Jackson also ruled that before the rezoning could be upheld, LCG had to submit more detailed information about the risk of falling ice and tower failure damage outside the tower's 730-foot radius.

According to Timothy Carl, acting Jefferson County planning director, the Group's facility site development plan was within "a couple weeks" of final approval before the district court blocked them from issuing a construction permit.

Before transferring to his new job in early June, Carl was in charge of the county's zoning approval process. With direct responsibility for granting a permit for construction of all telecommunication towers in the county, he was intimately familiar with the LCG tower proposal.

Carl did not ascribe much validity to community opponents' concerns about the LCG tower falling sideways outside of the prescribed radius, or snapped guy wires lashing out beyond the property boundaries.

"The old KOA-TV tower fell sidewise when being erected back in the 1950s," he said, but that was while the guy wires were being attached.

He did not know of any tower built recently that has failed the way the opponents describe.

"Towers today are erected with more safety, and they are designed to collapse straight down under their own weight," he said.

COLD COMFORT

Potential dangers from a tower collapse still bother Deb Carney, attorney for Canyon Area Residents for the Environment (C.A.R.E.), the Lookout Mountain coalition of homeowners who have vowed to stop the construction. She referred to research from C.AR.E member and consulting engineer Bob Barrett, who cited a March 1999 tower collapse report, submitted to Carl on behalf of Kline Towers, which designed the initial candelabra-topped mast that was voted down by the county that year.

"Two of those collapses were atypical," said Barrett. "The towers did not just 'collapse' upon themselves, but sections of the towers were blown horizontally at least as far as they were high. Both occurred during very strong wind events, I believe. These were the WTAT-TV collapse in South Carolina in 1989 and the WEJV-TV collapse in Indiana in 1988. The cables in the WTAT collapse, when two guys broke, extended greater than 100 percent of the tower height away from the tower base."

Carney said that C.A.R.E. mostly is concerned about tower radiation. Since 2001, researchers from Colorado State University and the University of Washington in Seattle have been conducting regular health screenings of 300 Lookout Mountain residents. The study will show whether there is an elevated rate of cancers among people living near the tower farm.

She said the study finding will be released in May 2005.

If the county grants a construction permit this summer, she said, "We'll go to court to defer the decision until the findings are known. The residents are determined to prevent this any way we can within the bounds of the law."

The C.A.R.E. assertions where challenged by Don Doty, president of Stainless Inc., an international broadcast tower erection company headquartered in North Wales, Pa. Stainless erected five local towers, including the 1955 tower for KOA-TV, the station that later became KCNC-TV, but Stainless has no involvement in the Lake Cedar project.

"Out of the 7,500 towers we've installed since Stainless went into busi-ness back in 1947, if ten percent of them failed, that would mean 700 tower collapses," he said. "If that was the case, you can bet that our insurance rates would put us out of business. In fact, our records indicate that less four-tenths of one percent of our towers have failed since 1947."

Doty also said that winds would not tend to scatter debris or ice fall much beyond the radius either. "Imagine throwing a 16 pound bowling ball from a rooftop. Even in a high wind, a big chunk of ice is not going to go very far. And any pieces of ice light enough to fly outside the radius will be too small to do any damage."

As for guy wires lashing out like fly fishing line beyond the tower radius, he concedes this is theoretically possible, "but I cannot recall a case of this happening."

Regarding RF radiation, Doty said that studies by the FCC, OSHA and the U.S. Navy assure him about the safety of the antennas he builds.

"The public exposure is hundreds of wavelengths away from the source. Some may claim the federal standards are too high, but I'm convinced that if anything, OSHA has erred on the side of caution, " he said.

Another observer of the Lookout Mountain controversy is Jerry Agliata, executive director of the National Antenna Consortium.

"The tower opponents are very tenacious, and you have to admire them for that, but they just don't have science on their side," he said.

Golden city manager Michael Bestor disagrees.

"The television industry is looking for the lowest cost for tower construction without due consideration for the potential health impact or property damage for people living near their towers. The city of Golden won the lawsuit we filed because of the legal issues we raised about the way the county commission erred in the approval process," Bestor said.

Pending a county decision, meanwhile, the four Lake Cedar Group stations have postponed ordering equipment for the project. One engineer in the group said that transmission lines for the main facility have been purchased and delivered, but that's all so far. That transmission line is sitting on pallets in a warehouse.