Middle Bald Mountain communication tower EIS scoping report released

The construction of a communications tower proposed by Larimer County for Middle Bald Mountain has moved one small step forward. First conceived by the county in 1996, plans for the proposed tower, designed to enhance communication through much of Poudre Canyon, have traveled a long and rocky road. The tower would improve radio communications in the canyon for law enforcement, fire departments and other emergency responders, and possibly provide cell phone coverage through a commercial provider.

Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith views construction of the tower as necessary to fill the need to provide faster and more efficient rescue and emergency services to Poudre Canyon and the surrounding area. Citizens, including members of the Mummy Range Institute based in Red Feather Lakes Village, believe there may be more environmentally sound alternatives to construction of the tower.

The U.S. Forest Service determined that in order to respond to Larimer County’s request to construct the tower, an Environmental Impact Statement was called for. As part of the EIS process, public input in the form of scoping meetings were held in Fort Collins and Red Feather Lakes Village in October 2012. A scoping summary report was issued by the Forest Service in March. The report describes and summarizes public opinion presented at the meetings.

Meetings were attended by 52 people and elicited 279 comments covering a wide range of issues from the need for the tower to alternate possibilities, cost, design, impact on wildlife and vegetation, human health and safety, preservation of scenery and recreational activities, and the wisdom of building a structure that might soon be technologically obsolete.

The Mummy Range Institute notes that a “decade of silent planning” preceded Larimer County’s first formal application to the Forest Service in 2003, to build the tower on South Bald Mountain. That request was denied because the area is designated as roadless.

In April 2006, a proposal to locate the tower on Middle Bald Mountain was submitted. Public input was solicited during a scoping process that concluded in January 2007. After additional technical studies and refinement of the proposal, final plans were submitted in April 2011. The current environmental impact study process was initiated on Sept. 14, 2012. It included a published notice of intent, a website, press releases and public open house scoping meetings.

The 60- to 70-foot tall radio tower would be located close to the summit of Bald Mountain, about 5-miles southwest of Red Feather Lakes. It will include a 100- to 200-square-foot maintenance building and a standby diesel generator. Cost is estimated at $2.75 million with additional funds needed for annual maintenance. Construction of the tower would require a power line between 6 and 12 miles long as well as a buried line and access road running across tundra. An additional tower would need to be built near Glacier View to relay signals to the lower Poudre Canyon.

Attendees at the scoping meetings voiced specific concerns about maintaining scenic integrity with a communications site and power line located near the summit of the 11,000 foot- Middle Bald Mountain, the only alpine tundra site in the entire range.

They worried about impact to motorized and non-motorized recreational experiences on the mountain and in the surrounding area, and impacts to wetlands and subalpine meadows from access road and site construction.

Other issues addressed collision or electrocution risk to birds, and harm to plants, fish and wildlife that would be affected by construction, operations and maintenance of the site. Noxious weeds might be introduced during construction.

Cultural resources eligible for listing on the National Register for Historic Places might be affected. Powerline right-of-way and construction and maintenance could affect erosion, runoff and stream sedimentation. Property values, tourism and outdoor recreation important to the local economy, could be affected as well.

The next step in the EIS process is presentation of a draft of the EIS for 45 days of public review.

Reghan Cloudman, public affairs specialist for the Forest Service, says the draft will present what the Forest Service considers are reasonable alternatives to the proposed tower and will also describe the interest AT&T has shown in the project, which would make the tower available for cell phone users. No date has been set for publication of the draft EIS.

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