In September 2008 the Board of County Commissioners of Ouray County (“Board”) approved, with conditions, a Special Use Permit application for Dallas Creek Water Company for the construction of an 80-foot communication tower and an associated equipment shelter. The tower is intended for the use of Ouray County emergency services providers for their VHF equipment, the State of Colorado’s 800 MHz digital trunked radio system and for Verizon Wireless.
During the six public hearings before the Planning Commission, the Board of Visual Appeals and the Board of County Commissioners, the need for enhanced communication services for Ouray County emergency services workers was made apparent. Testimony was given by the Ouray County Sheriff, the Ouray County Emergency Medical Service Director, representatives from the fire departments, Montrose Interagency Fire Management Unit representing the federal offices of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. All of the testimony from these emergency services providers, including residents of Loghill Village and Fairway Pines, was that effective communication was key and Ouray County does not have it. The testimony may be summed up by the statement prepared by General Mason Whitney and made at the April 27, 2009 public hearing by Kim Coleman with the Governor’s Office of Information Technology and representing the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security. “Effective communication is essential to first-responder management of emergencies. The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Information Technologies are dedicated to increasing our first-responders’ capability to communicate effectively while ensuring we protect our environment and standard of living. The Loghill 800 MHz site adds considerable capability to Ouray County’s communication system and due diligence has been completed in determining environmental and economic impact to the community with the placement of the necessary equipment to bring it online.”
The letter that residents of Loghill Village recently received stated that “tall communication towers reduce property values”; it is quite likely that the converse may be true – that enhanced cellular and emergency communication will increase property values. The specific instance that the authors mention to support their argument that property values may be reduced was a very distinct situation and involved a property adjacent to the existing towers and water tanks. The Board received testimony given under oath by the owners’ representative describing other impacts alleged from the existing towers and water tanks, such as noise, vibrations and traffic. The facts as presented to the Board in this particular appeal were unique and likely not to be duplicated on any other property. Finally, notwithstanding the authors’ statement that “the potential for future, taller towers may ruin . . . views forever” there are no other pending applications for communications towers.
One component of the tower is space for the State of Colorado’s 800 MHz digital trunked radio system that will enable emergency services workers in Ouray County to be able to talk to the rest of the “world” in the event of a major catastrophe. A T-1 internet connection line was recently installed in order to make the system operational and avoid having to return hundreds of thousand of dollars in grant funding, however, such solution was merely a “band-aid” and not intended to take the place of the tower itself. The Loghill Area Fire District, who had originally applied for the grant, was on a tight timeline to demonstrate grant compliance and the T-1 line was the bare minimum that could be accomplished in order to show fulfillment of the grant requirements. Alan Staehle, Emergency Management Coordinator for Ouray County has recently stated that the T-1 line makes the CWIN system “marginally operational.” The T-1 line does not serve to enhance communications among emergency responders in Ouray County and the only remedy for that is completion of the tower and placement of Ouray County’s VHF antenna at the top of the tower. Too frequently the volunteers who supply the manpower for emergency services in Ouray County are unable to communicate with dispatch and each other in an emergency, seriously hampering their effectiveness. Construction of the tower will greatly enhance all aspects of communication when an emergency occurs.
Construction of the tower has been challenged in court in various filings and hearings. The decisions of the Board of County Commissioners in approving the tower have been upheld in every instance by Judge J. Steven Patrick, Ouray County District Court Judge. Judge Patrick has confirmed in various rulings that the approval of the tower by the Board was not in error. Specifically, the Court found that: “There is no abuse of discretion in the Board’s decision and the Board did not exceed its jurisdiction and its legal conclusions were supported by a reasonable basis.”
Citizens are encouraged to attend any Board meeting at 9 a.m. for the “Call to the Public” to seek additional information on this or any issue.