Joseph says no to tower

<I>Elane Dickenson/Chieftain</I><BR>Dan MacKinney of U.S. Cellular testifies last week before Joseph City Council about putting a 150-foot tower on Joseph High School property. The proposal was denied.

Responding to city residents who objected to the idea of a 150-foot tower on Joseph High School's hill ruining Joseph's view, the Joseph City Council voted 6-0 against a variance request from U.S. Cellular to allow the tower.

The vote came at 11 p.m. April 6, with council members expressing mixed feelings because of the stated benefits of the tower, namely better cell phone service to the community at the head of Wallowa Lake and Prairie Creek areas.

An agreement had also been made with the Joseph School District to pay $800 a month rent for the tower and to also allow the district future use for wireless Internet signals.

A number of Joseph residents who opposed the proposal testified about possible negative health of the radio waves that would be emitted by the wireless equipment on the tower, but it was eventually made clear that under FCC regulations, local jurisdictions are not allowed to even consider the controversial health issue in their deliberations.

It was noted during the hearing that Joseph's land use plan, which was last updated in 1996, does not even specifically address communication towers.

Dan MacKinney of Hayden, Idaho, represented the cell phone company and testified at length about the geographical factors that made the high school hill the best location to site the towers in order to provide "a robust signal" to Wallowa Lake and Prairie Creek. He said that the Wallowa Lake moraine would be an even better location, but the applicant had been told when first scouting for a site not even to consider the moraine because of land use restrictions and political considerations.

"The location at the high school is the best we can do with what we have to work with," he said, adding that the tower would be barely higher than the outlet of the lake, so the company would also look to develop a repeater site to extend the signal.

MacKinney said that because of the height of the tower and the hill site and its location in respect to the Joseph airport, it is possible that Federal Aviation Administration would require red lights on the tower at night and white strobe lights during the day, or even to reduce the height of the tower by 28 feet. The FAA application is still under review, MacKinney told the council.

McKinney said he knew residents would be concerned about the view and he drove around trying to envision what the tower would look like from different viewpoints in the city. He passed around a set of four photos that showed the football lights and how the tower would look from different views. Later in the meeting, the photos were disputed by residents, who felt the tower - which would be close to three times the height of the lights - was made to look smaller than it would actually appear. It turned out that the photos were mistakenly based on the lights being 90 feet tall, rather than their actual 65-foot height.

MacKinney said there was no intention to deceive anyone by the photos, that it was just a mistake.

In response to questions about the environmental impact of the tower, MacKinney said that U.S. Cellular had to meet all federal regulations but unless a special concern was found, no environmental assessment would be needed. "In all my experience, we have never had to do an environmental assessment on a cell tower," he said.

Testifying in favor of the cell phone tower were Dan DeBoie, chairman of the Joseph School Board; Dennis Sands, who felt that "in this day and age the city has the responsibility (to insure) that our communications technology is up to date;" and Eric Kozowski, who supported the tower for health and safety reasons, noting that at present cell phones don't even work at Wallowa Lake State Park.

Testifying against the variance permit, either in person or written form, were Mark Lacey, Janice Bailey, Joe Ehrler, Judy Willis, Bud Rayburn, Elizabeth Cunningham, Randall Parmelee, Catherine Matthias, Marcie Strazer, Larry Willis, Don and Carol Elson, Robene Parks, Eileen Thiel and John and Ann Dundas.

Many of those in opposition talked about the obstruction of the view of the mountains from Joseph and surrounding area, as well as health factors and possible impact on wildlife. Many felt that people who move to or visit Wallowa Lake shouldn't expect to get the same cell phone reception as in the city. Others brought up the recent community rally, and didn't feel a tall tower obscuring the view shed fit in with the vision developed there.

"It's ugly and it could be dangerous," Judy Willis said. "You are going to be able to see it from everywhere. There has to be somewhere else."

While there was some discussion of waiting to get updated FAA and environmental information, in the end the council agreed and voted against the tower.

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