Military Tower a Beacon for Discord : Minnesota: Dairy farmers battle plans to build a $1-million radio transmission device. But Pentagon may construct it before Congress can act.

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Farmers who live along the gravel roads of central Minnesota worry more about balancing their own budgets than the international balance of power.

But they did hear that the Cold War was over.

So they were puzzled to learn that the Air Force plans to build a $1-million radio tower in Jeron Kapsner's cornfield to help keep military leaders in touch in case of a nuclear war.

It's made residents of this dairy-farming region unlikely recruits in a congressional battle to cut military spending. But the military may build the tower this month even as Congress considers whether to pull the plug on the program.

"I think they just kind of move ahead with blinders on. It looks like they pay no attention to Congress," said Gloria Stumpf, who lives across the road from the Kapsners.

The Pentagon says 29 additional towers, including the Kapsner site in Morrison County 90 miles northeast of Minneapolis, are needed to close gaps in an existing system of 54 towers in the Ground Wave Emergency Network, or GWEN.

GWEN is designed to survive in case an enemy delivers a high-altitude nuclear attack, which would generate an electromagnetic pulse that would short out conventional communications.

But when the 1994 defense authorization bill comes up for a vote, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has said he will propose terminating GWEN, including the tower on Kapsner's farm.

Rep. Martin Sabo (D-Minn.) wants to prohibit construction of any additional sites in the 1994 defense appropriations bill because he thinks the towers are too expensive and unnecessary.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that terminating the program would save about $41.2 million over the next five years. The Pentagon says cancellation would cost the government $11.8 million for removing equipment and restoring land at existing sites.

Assistant Defense Secretary Emmett Paige Jr. told Sabo and two other Minnesota congressmen in June that the Pentagon will need GWEN "as long as our nuclear forces are required to be placed on alert at some future date in response to an aggressor."

That's the argument that puzzles folks who live near the tower site.

"Do they think there is some other country that has the capability of bombing us? I feel no threat of a Cold War," said neighbor Roxanne Welle. She says residents have written congressmen, Air Force officials and Defense Secretary Les Aspin with no success. The county board also passed a resolution opposing the project.

"It's a waste of money," Stumpf said. "We have to balance our checkbooks and watch our money, and it doesn't seem like the government has to."

Of course, opponents are motivated by more than selfless concern for the federal deficit. They worry that the tower will mar their rolling prairie and woodland views, harm their health and their cows--despite studies rebutting that claim--or make them a target for an enemy attack.

Jeron and Gladys Kapsner also regret their decision to rent 11 of their 420 acres for the tower.

"The county commissioners voted against it, the neighbors all don't want it, so I really don't want it. You've got to live in this area," Kapsner said.

The Kapsners won't say how much they will earn in rent, but say it isn't worth it.

"What is money when you haven't got neighbors?" Kapsner said.

The Kapsners recently told the government they wanted to cancel the lease agreement, but Kapsner said a government lawyer threatened to take them to court.

"We were going to, but I don't have no money to fight something like this," he said.

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