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Safer tower a tall order

By Jeremy Heiman

Special to the Post Independent



Radio station KMTS will build a new transmitter tower on Red Mountain, nearly twice as tall as its existing tower.

The new, taller tower is being required by the federal government. It will not increase the strength of the station’s signal and, according to a consultant hired by the station, it should not be any more visible than the existing tower.



The point of the taller tower is simply to move the transmitter farther away from any people on the ground in order to reduce the danger from high-energy radio waves.

The new tower, approved by Garfield County Monday, will be 80 feet tall and will be about 70 feet uphill, to the west, from the existing 41-foot tower. The current tower is located at a point where the steep slope of the mountainside moderates.

The new tower, like the current tower, will be on a 40-acre parcel owned by the station. The parcel is also the site of the lighted cross and an old ski area building.

The FM country music station needs to build the taller tower in order to comply with a new rule from the Federal Communications Commission, the agency that regulates radio communications of all kinds. Jon Banks, a technical consultant hired by KMTS, told the Garfield County Commissioners last week that radio frequency exposure at close range has been found to warm human tissue, and, though the body has the ability to dissipate this heat, it is thought to be dangerous at high levels of exposure.

This issue is common only in mountainous areas. In flatter areas of the country, radio towers are built several hundred feet tall to distribute their broadcast signal farther. On Red Mountain, mountain bikers, hikers and landowners driving by are in a position to be exposed to the radio waves from the existing tower.

The FCC’s new standards are intended to keep the public far outside the area where radio waves might be dangerous. The agency has informed KMTS it must take measures to protect the public before it can renew its broadcast license, which expires in September.

The new tower won’t increase the strength of the station’s signal at all, Banks said.

The 80-foot height of the tower is actually a compromise. The station first applied to erect a 102-foot tower, 172 feet from the site of the current tower. A 102-foot tower was calculated to raise the station’s broadcast antennae high enough that people on the ground would be outside the danger zone.

But objections from county staff and nearby landowners, voiced at a public hearing May 3, blocked that plan.

“As far as being compatible with the environment, staff has a hard time thinking a 102-foot metal tower will blend in with its surroundings,” said Fred Jarman, senior planner for the county.

Owners of property in the Glen Park Ranch subdivision, an enclave of 13, 35-acre lots to the south of the KMTS site, objected to the height of the tower and to the station’s intention to erect another tower while leaving the old tower in place. The Glen Park Ranch subdivision, still mostly undeveloped, is reached by the same road that serves the KMTS property.

Lynn Kleager, part owner of Glen Park Ranch, pointed out that when the developers installed utilities and other infrastructure, everything was placed underground, to lessen the visual impacts. A new, taller tower would not be compatible, Kleager said.

While a 102-foot tower would raise the station’s broadcast antennae high enough above the ground that dangerous levels of radio waves would disperse before reaching people on the ground, an 80-foot tower will not. Therefore, the station must build a fence in a 70-foot radius around the base of the tower, to prevent people from entering the area where radio waves are at a dangerous level.

A 60-foot tower, another option considered, would need to be closer to the edge of the steep part of the mountain, to permit adequate radio reception in town. And protective fencing around it would require the existing road to be moved. Rebuilding the road to circumvent the fence would cost more than $50,000, Banks told the commissioners.

Moreover, the 80-foot tower might not be any more visible than a 60-foot tower, or less visible than a 102-foot tower.

“It totally depends on where you stand,” Banks said.

KMTS intends to remove the top 20 feet from the existing tower, but will continue to use microwave receptors on the remaining 21-foot tower to pick up a programming signal from the studio in town and relay it to the broadcast tower.

“We think the remaining 21 feet will be pretty well shielded by scrub oak,” said station manager Gabe Chenoweth.

Commission Chairman John Martin and commissioner Larry McCown voted to approve the 80-foot tower proposal, with commissioner Tresi Houpt opposed.

“It’s a reasonable compromise,” Kleager said.

Contact Jeremy Heiman: 945-8515, ext. 534

jheiman@postindependent.com


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