The storm around the proposal to build a communications tower on Middle Bald Mountain blew up again in the wake of Larimer County’s decision to push the Forest Service for an environmental impact study over the winter months, when snow and wind are expected to reduce the validity of the study.
At an Oct. 13 public meeting, members of the Mummy Range Institute outlined their objections to both the EIS and the entire proposal, including cost, adverse and ongoing environmental damage, habitat destruction and the simple question whether the site is a good solution to needs of public safety agencies.
Larimer County is proposing to build a 60-foot tall public safety radio tower on the summit of Middle Bald Mountain, about five miles southwest of Red Feather Lakes. The facility will also include a 108-square-foot maintenance building and a standby diesel generator. The cost of building the tower is expected to be $2.75 million, with additional annual maintenance costs.
The county first proposed improving public safety communications in the Poudre Canyon and Laramie River Valley in 2003.
The Middle Bald location was the county’s third choice for the tower site, since the first two sites were in roadless areas. Sheriff Justin Smith has said the Middle Bald solution is not his first choice and that he would prefer a series of towers running up the Poudre Canyon, which the county estimates would require five separate towers.
The tower, only a half mile from a roadless area, would require the construction of a power line between 6 and 12 miles long, then a buried line and access road running across the tundra. An additional tower would need to be built near Glacier View to relay signals to the lower Poudre Canyon.
Middle Bald Mountain, at 11,000 feet, is the only alpine tundra site in the entire range of the Laramie Mountains, according to MRI. It is a major elk calving ground and home to such delicate species as lynx. It is near the confluence of three branches of the Central Flyway for migratory birds.
Environmental concerns include damage to raptors and migratory birds. According to MRI member Deb Hochhalter, the tower “poses a grave threat to migratory birds,” and notes the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has reported that 4 million to 5 million birds are killed annually in tower collisions (from lighting disorientation and intense microwave radiation). USFWS also recommends not siting towers in known areas of migratory or daily movement flyways.
By building a tower on Middle Bald, the county would open the door to a proliferation of towers for other agencies, or commercial users such as cell phone service providers, exponentially increasing the environmental and habitat destruction, according to MRI.
“The National Environmental Protection Act gives preference to sites that are previously developed,” the institute wrote in a prepared statement. “In fact, when the National Forest Service received Larimer County’s application for Middle Bald Mountain, the agency immediately called for additional applications by commercial providers.”
MRI member Bill Gilbert noted that Boulder County, faced with similar terrain and communication problems, “has developed a system that will provide interoperability among all of its users using radio systems, cell phones, IP (Internet Protocol) phones or PCs.”
He points out that new federal legislation, a Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) passed in February, has apparently not been taken into consideration by the county. Gilbert says emergency personnel, including local volunteer firefighters, would need to carry two radios, one broadcasting on 800 MHz and one on VHF band.
“Unfortunately,” says Gilbert, “the tower proponents in the county seem to be out of touch with the advances made in communication technology. This is costing Larimer County taxpayers millions of dollars.”
A statement on the website www.savethebaldies.org summarizes the MRI point of view: “We further object to Larimer County’s long-standing failure to work openly with concerned citizens. The Mummy Range Institute encourages a better use of our public money and natural resources than the tower facility proposed by Larimer County.”
The public can find further information at the county website www.larimer.org/baldmountain/. Although the Forest Services’s public comment period ended Oct. 29, citizens can address comments to the Larimer County commissioners at www.larimer.org/bocc/.