Faces Local Resistance
Fears Instability and Falling Ice, but Residents Fear
Greater RF Radiation Risk.
opposition has stymied efforts by Denver broadcasters to
build a joint digital "supertower" about a mile from
Buffalo Bill's grave on Lookout Mountain at the western
edge of metropolitan Denver.
A March 5 letter
from the Jefferson County zoning department recommends
denial of a zoning change that would allow tower
construction. The letter cites concerns about tower
height and stability in the populated foothills
neighborhood, plus fears of winter ice fall from the
structure and supporting guy wires.
organizers, however, claim their opposition is the real
reason the zoning staff reversed a previously favorable
position. Residents have voiced concerns of potential
health risks from long-term exposure to low levels of RF
radiation. Tower opponents assert that radiation risks
are already great from existing towers, and the danger
will only increase as RF output doubles to 20 million
watts once DTV broadcasting begins.
The existing plan
calls for a single ATSC tower eventually to replace five
NTSC towers with attached FM gear. This consolidation
pleases Jefferson County commissioners in the new
administration and courts building at the foot of Lookout
Mountain, looking up at the scattered antenna farm atop
the ridge. The county has for many years fielded citywide
complaints about "visual pollution" of the foothills
planning department case officer Tim Carl said the
proposed tower, 851 feet tall with a 12-foot face, could
collapse on nearby homes, and that danger makes the
current proposal unacceptable. As for residents' health
concerns, he said the proposed RF radiation would fall
within exposure limits established by the FCC, so it's
not the issue.
At a March 10
public hearing, the joint venture proposing the
supertower, Lake Cedar Group LLC, was granted a
continuance until a new hearing on April 27 addressing
county anxieties. Alternatives range from redesigning the
structure to building a tower elsewhere.
pressure they've been subjected to has made the planning
staff more aware of their own rules," said Lake Cedar
Group general manager Jim MacDougal, retired GM from
KCNC-TV, a CBS affiliate. He operates the venture from
his home in Parker, a town southeast of Denver. "The
county naturally needs to double-check everything and
make sure they cover their backsides."
As for how the
joint digital tower proposal can go forward, MacDougal
said, "Right now we have a bunch of engineers and top
consultants scratching their heads and thinking about
what to do next."
He declined to
specify what the broadcasters will suggest at the April
27 hearing. "Let's just say we're looking at all the
options." He did indicate, however, that the consortium
is not open to building a massive structure like the
Mount Sutro facility serving San Francisco.
A new digital tower
on Lookout Mountain would replace the existing analog
tower of KCNC at the same site. Other broadcasters moving
to the new tower would be KMGH-TV (ABC), KUSA (NBC), KDTV
(UPN), KRMA (PBS), and several FM stations. All of their
analog towers would be gone by the end of the transition
to digital. Denver TV stations not participating in the
tower coalition are KDVR (Fox), KWGN (WB), and
"alternative" PBS affiliate KBDI.
The new tower would
sit on KCNC property zoned as a "non-conforming use" of
residential land, a restrictive status that grandfathered
in the existing broadcast towers. Lake Cedar Group has
applied for commercial zoning.
organizers wish the broadcast and microwave towers would
move to another mountain, or out onto the plains. They
suggest nearby Squaw Mountain or Eldorado Peak, both of
which have existing communications facilities. Or perhaps
broadcasters could build a 2,000-foot tower on the
prairie, they say, like the Sioux Falls tower in the
Fighting the tower
proposal is a coalition of community organizations under
an umbrella group, THREAT, or "Tower Hazards and
Radiation Exposure Above Tolerance."
"We are not a bunch
of radicals," said steering committee member Kevin
Groeneweg, a corporate finance manager who serves as
president of the affluent Paradise Hills Homeowners
Association. "I just took over in January from the
previous president, who's come down with cancer in his
that the levels of RF radiation on Lookout Mountain are
already 200,000 percent above the EPA's national median
for RF exposure. He suspects that what is called the
"non-thermal effects of the disproportionately high" RF
radiation has caused a higher-than-average incidence of
cancer in the community.
Yet he readily
admits there's not enough scientific evidence to prove
his allegations. "If exposure to radiated heat is like
boiling an egg, we know at what point an egg boils, but
we don't yet know what happens to an egg from staying
inside a low-level electromagnetic field. It's a
difficult jigsaw puzzle with most of the picture missing,
but the few studies available reveal the outline of a
bright red flag."
Even without the
suspected health risks, he said, "the transition to
digital over the next 10 to 15 years is an excellent time
to migrate the antenna farm in an organized manner to a
safer and more remote location, so the main beams of the
antennas are pointed up and away from people."
are neither confirmed nor denied by Dr. Joe Elder,
special assistant to the director of the EPA's National
Health and Environmental Effects Laboratory at Research
Triangle Park in North Carolina. "There remains
insufficient data about the non-thermal effects of RF
radiation to develop long-term exposure standards." He
declined to speculate on why more studies are not being
To test actual RF
exposure in the community, the FCC's senior scientist,
Dr. Robert Cleveland, conducted two radiation
measurements on Lookout Mountain in October and December
Cleveland said he
found several "hot spots" caused by FM stations, which
were ordered to put up fencing and cut back signal power
to comply with FCC exposure limits.
"With the FM
stations in compliance, the proposed community exposure
from the digital tower would fall within the acceptable
range," he said. "The county can make its own decision,
but as far as the FCC is concerned, the Denver tower has
a green light."
What happens if
Lake Cedar Group meets Jeffco safety rules, and the
county grants a construction permit to build the joint
tower on Lookout Mountain?
"Although Lake Cedar was set up as a limited liability
corporation to not internalize risks from harm to the
community, be very clear that if the tower goes forward,
there will be litigation." .