Nez Perce welcome cell tower

<I>Corey Wicks/Chieftain</I><BR>Doug Snyder of Sky-Comm Inc. of Vancouver, Wash., stands beneath the 180-foot cell tower he was in charge of installing atop Tick Hill in Wallowa. Last Wednesday Snyder could be spotted high up on the pole as a crane lifted the tower's section into place.

Workers installed a 180-foot cell tower atop Tick Hill in Wallowa last week - marking the city's official entry into the modern technological world, according to some residents.

"People are pretty excited about the prospect of getting cell service in Wallowa," said Mary Knutson, the project coordinator of the cell tower project on behalf of the Wallowa Band Nez Perce Trail Interpretive Center.

The cell tower, which will be operated by U.S. Cellular, is being placed on land owned by the Wallowa Band Nez Perce Trail Interpretive Center. The cell tower sits above the Tamkaliks grounds and its arbor on the 320-acre site.

The 30-member board of directors for the interpretive center agreed to lease the cell tower site to U.S. Cellular for $750 a month, she said. A portion of the money will go toward future developments on the site, such as an interpretive center and perhaps a longhouse, she said.

"It was a hard decision for the board to have it up there," Knutson said. "It wasn't just a money thing for us, but a way to serve Wallowa and Lostine residents. It was kind of a way to give back to them."

Wallowa City Recorder Lori Waters said she has heard a lot of comments about the tower from people coming into city hall. "They're just amazed with the structure," Waters said. "I think everybody will enjoy better cell service in the town."

Other residents spoken to at the U.S. Post Office and grocery stores and restaurants seemed favorable to having a new cell tower on the hill, even despite the fact that it can be clearly seen for miles around - all the way from Lostine, in fact. (See Streetbeat next week for more comments on the new cell tower.)

Several people expressed awe at seeing a man hanging onto the pole, high up it, when it was being installed last Wednesday. That person was Doug Snyder, the general contractor for the project. His company, Sky Comm Inc., of Vancouver, Wash., had placed a bid of $175,000 to install the tower.

Snyder said that it doesn't bother him working at such heights as he was Wednesday releasing the crane and setting the antennas. "I've been doing it a long time," he said.

On Thursday, his crew was working to ground the tower and finishing up the site grading. But just because the tower is now standing doesn't mean that it will be instantly operational.

"The thing would be ready to go next week but there's a delay getting telco (telephone communication) to the site. We're waiting on Verizon," Snyder said.

The problem is that the telephone poles that run along Tick Hill are not up to code. They need to be able to string another line along them to connect to the cell tower station and the current poles don't meet the code for that, he said. The tower needs to be connected by telephone communication in order to provide the hardwiring that gets the site onto their network.

Without new telephone poles, they may have to put up a temporary dish to beam out the data, Snyder said.

He thinks the cell tower will be up and running in 2 to 4 weeks. "I would think within the 30 days, if we can get a temporary system in," Snyder said. Otherwise, "it would have no way to talk to the switch," he said.

Aaron Hadden Excavating of Pilot Rock did the excavation and dynamite work. Sierrra Crane and Rigging of La Grande did the crane work. South Fork Ready Mix of Enterprise did the concrete work.

"Hopefully everyone will be happy with it," Knutson said.

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