Denver Tower in Limbo

Six Denver broadcasters, including the local PBS TV and radio stations, will have to wait another month to find out whether they'll be able to consolidate tower operations on Mt. Morrison, located 12 miles west of Denver.

Colorado's Jefferson County Board of Commissioners was expected to announce a decision on the tower proposal last week but instead gave broadcasters a list of questions concerning the potential tower. The board will render a decision at a final meeting scheduled for Feb. 4.

At stake is KRMA-TV Denver's move to DTV broadcasting and also the future of KPXC-TV Denver and the local Telemundo and EWTN: Global Catholic Network stations. These last three stations are currently located on a tower that, after an antenna was added, became illegal.

The rezoning involves about 12 acres owned by Bear Creek Development Corp. There are two proposals: one for a 260-foot guyed tower and the other for a trapezoid-shaped lattice structure 120 feet across on the west side and 60 feet on the east side, which would be 52 feet deep and 70 feet high with top-mounted antennas not to exceed 70 feet in height. The latter proposal would not require lighting or red-and-white painting.

Ken Smith, who is handling the Mt. Morrison tower-replacement application for the broadcasters and land owners, says that, if the board decides to approve the construction, it will most likely be for the latter proposal.

He was cautiously optimistic following the final public hearing last week. He says the request for information from the board consisted primarily of questions about how to make the new tower more inconspicuous as well as offering monitoring of RF levels if and when additional FM radio stations are added to the site.

"There aren't any questions that aren't solvable," he adds, "and we've conveyed our desire to work closely with the board to identify any potential issues and solve them in a way that the county finds acceptable."

The hearings that have taken place and the differing opinions over the towers exemplify the difficulties new-tower constructions can face. The two Denver tower proposals call for consolidation of two existing towers onto one. But the proposal itself has given tower opponents, most notably the local organization Canyon Area Residents for the Environment (CARE), an opening to fight a larger war to remove all towers from the mountain.

CARE's concerns range from over-exposure to radiation to the impact on property values. CARE President Dick Bartlett argues that the tower proposals are not the best way to solve the illegal-antenna problem: "It's the equivalent of getting a speeding ticket and then asking the judge to raise the speed limit so that it won't happen again."

Smith says the mistake that CARE is making is viewing the application as if it were a referendum on all towers on Mt. Morrison. "They used the Mt. Morrison replacement-tower application as leverage to try and bring focus to what they say is their plight of living in a tower farm."

Smith says that the net reduction of towers in the area should be seen as a good thing for those concerned with property values or health issues.

Ernie Santella, who has had his own Denver-based film/video production company (Santella Productions) since 1987, has been attending the hearings. "It's not so much an issue of environmentalists vs. broadcasters," he suggests, "but of rich homeowners worried about their property values."

Santella believes that the fight by CARE is delaying the rollout of full-power DTV in the Denver area until at least 2005. "And that is only if full legal battles in the Colorado courts don't delay it further."