Board of County Commissioners

From left, Kris Holstrom, Joan May and Hilary Cooper discussed a referral letter to be submitted to the Town of Mountain Village at their Board of County Commissioners meeting on Wednesday.  

(Photo by Jessica Kutz/Telluride Daily Planet)

Despite the fact that the construction of a communications tower will violate a covenant intended to prevent artificial light on top of Coonskin Ridge, county commissioners won’t take legal action to prevent it. 

That was the take-home message at a Wednesday meeting of the San Miguel Board of County Commissioners. The Ridgeline Covenant is intended to prevent artificial light from reaching the Coonskin view-plane, and was signed by the Town of Mountain Village, Telluride Ski & Golf Resort and San Miguel County in 1998.

On Wednesday, the commissioners discussed a referral letter they plan to draft regarding the communications tower, which will be submitted to Mountain Village. The town may approve or deny an amendment to the conditional-use permit that would allow the addition of a light on the proposed tower at a council meeting on Feb. 16. 

One addition to the letter, proposed by Mike Rozycki, the county planning director, included a stipulation that if the tower is indeed built on the ridge, there should also be a requirement to add equipment for state emergency communications systems. The emergency equipment is currently housed on the KOTO tower. 

Bill Jensen, chief executive officer of Telski, which owns the KOTO tower, wrote a letter to San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters on Jan. 16 stating that the sheriff would need to remove its emergency communications equipment, due to the tower being over capacity. Jensen also stated that the original lease for the equipment’s space on the KOTO tower expired in 2014. 

Jensen recommended that the sheriff consider negotiating with Crown Castle — the company that will construct the proposed tower — to move his equipment to the new tower. 

Commissioner Joan May said that many public comments have been received supporting the tower as a matter of public safety. 

She added that other comments have been received opposing the tower’s lighting. 

“It does go against our Ridgeline Covenant,” she stated. “It does disturb some of our county residents.” 

Telluride West End resident Elizabeth Burke said, “Several people on the West End and Hillside are not happy with the light.”

“I could see it from my bedroom, and it was disturbing,” she said about a light demonstration that took place in October to simulate the effects of the tower’s light.  

Rozycki suggested commissioners request that Mountain Village reduce the gondola lighting at the San Sophia station, “in a spirit of cooperation.”

According to Rozycki, on Jan. 17, Mountain Village turned off the upper bank of lights at the gondola station to see whether or not the effects of the tower light could be mitigated. “It made a significant impact on reducing the amount of light spill into the Town of Telluride,” he said. 

Commissioner Hilary Cooper was adamant about not supporting the light, because it is a violation of the covenant, but said she is “not prepared to take legal action at this point.” 

Cooper said she would like to include a suggestion in the referral letter that Crown Castle look into the possibility of shielding the light.

Previously in the meeting, when the option of a shield was brought up, Devin Morris, a project manager for Crown Castle, said, “Obstructing visibility of the light is highly frowned upon” by the Federal Aviation Authority.

He said that the application for shielding would most likely be denied by the FAA, and although approvals have been granted in the past the chances of this are “A needle in a haystack.”

Cooper asked that he try.

The 100-foot-tall tower — if it is built — will be located near the San Sophia station, adjacent to an existing 90-foot tower that currently supports KOTO Community Radio equipment and emergency services communications.  

The conditional use permit for the tower was originally approved by the commissioners in 2015 with the stipulation that the tower have no lighting or reflective paint. 

On May 27, the FAA issued a statement saying the new tower would not be a hazard as long the structure was marked and lighted, according to Rozycki. 

At the end of the discussion, Cooper said she wanted the record to reflect that “We (the county commissioners) have a lot of objection to this, and this will have an impact on a lot of people in the community.”