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Mother Angelica's radio towers rouse static.

VANDIVER, Ala. -- As Mother Angelica, founder of the Eternal Word Television Network, began broadcasting worldwide shortwave signals Dec. 28, she was getting static for installing radio towers on Alabama's third-tallest mountain.

"They've taken a pristine area everybody wanted to preserve and ruined it," said Lane Friedman, a Las Vegas physician who owns 180 acres on the 1,200-foot mountain.

Landowners have filed lawsuits against the network and Alabama Power Co. They say they resent the station's taking over an old logging road, clearing the picturesque peak and hiring the state's biggest utility to install a substation and zigzag large power lines across land covered by a small, local power company.

Friedman has sued the network for trespassing and widening the dirt road that curves up to the mountaintop.

"That road is on my property," he said. "I never wanted it to be a public road, and it never has been."

Matt Scalici, senior vice president of engineering for Eternal Word Television Network in Irondale, Ala., said the road had been there for 80 years and EWTN's radio service could legally use it.

"Environmentally, we haven't destroyed anything," Scalici said. "It all depends on your perspective."

Construction, which began in April 1991, required the clearance of about 10 acres of trees and drainage of a manmade pond at the site of a former peach orchard, but the area will be revegetated and landscaped, he said. "It will be quite beautiful," Scalici said.

Friedman said that if the road through his property is public, the radio station shouldn't block it with a security gate at its 160-acre mountaintop complex.

"They want to have it both ways," he said. "They want to close it off at the top, yet call it a public road."

The shortwave radio-transmitting facility needs the fence, topped by razor wire, for safety, Scalici said. "There is a radiation hazard near the antennae, but not beyond the fence line," he said.

Dennis Murphy, an international show-jumping rider who raises thoroughbreds, said an entire section of his horse farm had been devalued by Alabama Power Co. "They came right through the middle of my property," he said.

Buford Brasher said his daughter's planned homesite was ruined by the 100-foot-wide swath cut through his 40 acres to make room for power lines. "We tried to get them to take another route," he said. "They could have gone straight up the mountain."

Michael D. Garrett, an executive for the utility, which the radio station will pay about $1 million a year for power, said alternative routes were impractical because of inaccessible mountain terrain.

"I thought there was a better way," said Shelby County Probate Judge Thomas A. Snowden Jr. "They should have presented an alternate plan to avoid disrupting so many property owners." Snowden had denied requests to condemn the land, but his ruling was overturned.

EWTN President Bill Steltemeier said building the station and running new power lines naturally upset people. "You're always going to have that," he said. "You can't satisfy everybody."

Dutch philanthropist Piet Derksen financed the $20 million radio station, including four 500-kilowatt radio transmitters and two diesel generators to run the station in power outages.

Mother Angelica, who founded EWTN in Irondale in 1981 next to Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, said her shortwave radio programming would be mostly prayers and devotional readings in more than 20 languages, eventually expanded to 52.
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Title Annotation:Vandiver, Alabama - Eternal Word Television Network
Author:Garrison, Greg
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jan 8, 1993
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