Plans are in the works for a new FM radio station to come to Broken Bow. However, neither the Custer County Zoning Board or the Custer County Board of Supervisors have given their approval for the project.
After a split 4-4 vote by the zoning board, the matter came before the county commissioners during their regular meeting Tuesday. Presenting the request is Mark Jensen, owner of MJ Leasing. Jensen owns a handful of small radio stations in Nebraska, and recently purchased the station in Sargent.
His proposal is to erect a new tower and host site for an FM radio station approximately 10 miles northwest of the Broken Bow airport. Jensen says this would be a new business to the community, and he plans to employ eight people.
While Jensen was enthusiastic about the project during his presentation, the dozen or so members of the public who attended the meeting were not. Most of them were land owners who live in close proximity to the proposed site of the new tower - and they are concerned.
The biggest area of concern expressed by the public was safety. Clifford Olson was just one of the people who questioned the safety of the radio waves, and cited studies he says link these kinds of waves to a higher risk of cancer. However, Jensen did his best to calm those public fears by assuring Olson and the others that the FCC has very strict guidelines concerning safety. He has already received approval from the FCC for the project.
“If I thought there was any kind of safety risk to the public, I would not be doing this,” said Jensen. “These kind of waves are perfectly safe. You are much more at risk standing in front of your microwave.”
Jensen says he has been working on this project for about 15 months prior to coming to the county boards for approval. He says he is surprised by the reaction he has received.
“That was quite a shock to me,” Jensen said in reference to the split vote by the zoning board.
It was clear that nearly everyone in the room at Tuesday’s meeting was opposed to the idea of a new tower and radio station in Broken Bow - a response Jensen says he did not anticipate.
Along with receiving approval from the FCC, Jensen has also gotten approval on the project from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Gary Geiselman, Broken Bow Airport Authority, was also at Tuesday’s meeting and told the commissioners that the location of the tower would be well beyond the airport authority’s jurisdiction, and does not pose any problem at this point.
Jensen explained that whenever a project like this is being planned, the FAA contacts all local airports and people signed up to receive the information. He says not only did the FAA do this, but they circulated that information twice. No complaints or objections were received, according to Jensen.
The plan is to erect a 753-foot tower on the site, which falls below the minimum safety height requirement for the airport.
Jensen says he has also completed studies of the project by the State Historical Society, Nebraska Game & Parks, and cultural resource consulting to be sure there were no environmental issues with the project. All have approved the plan.
The county commissioners encouraged local input during the discussion of the proposed project, and asked KCNI/KBBN Owner-Manager Dave Birnie to weigh in. Birnie said he of course is concerned about the project from a business perspective, “but the decision of the board is not about business but about safety.”
Jensen responded, “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think there was plenty of room here for both Dave and I.”
Following the lengthy discussion, board chairman Larry Hickenbottom asked for a show of hands in the room from those who were opposed to the project. Nearly everyone raised their hand.
Despite all of the information Jensen provided, the deciding factor for the board was the fact that the proposed site does not meet the setback requirements. Based on that, the board voted 5-1 to deny the request, with Mark Haynes voting in favor.
Jensen now plans to offer a new application with the tower moved back 20 feet, something he was hoping to avoid due to the added expense. He says he has recently purchased a building in Broken Bow and has so far spent more than $100,000 on this project.
“I’ve looked at the numbers and the area, and I would not be doing this if I didn’t think it would work,” says Jensen.
He says the tower he plans to erect will be able to reach a larger area and offer service to the northern and northwestern parts of Nebraska that have little to no radio signal at the present time. He feels this is especially important during instances of severe weather.
For now the proposed station is on hold, pending a new application being filed to accommodate the 20-foot move. The Custer County Board of Supervisors meets the fourth Tuesday of the month at 9 a.m. in the supervisors room in the courthouse.