Port may sell land sought for cell-phone tower near Clinton

Port of South Whidbey commissioners are inching toward selling a portion of land that’s been eyed for a 140-foot cell-phone tower above Possession Point Waterfront Park south of Clinton.

The board this past week directed staff to begin initial surveys and engineering to determine if the port’s 27-acre property should be split, and the upper portion declared surplus and sold, Port Manager Ed Field said Monday.

“They’ve taken action moving toward a possible sale, but that decision has not been reached,” Field said.

He said commissioners will take up the issue again at their meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 14.

AT&T wants to lease property atop a 400-foot hill owned by the port to build the tower. The tower would be enclosed by a 40-foot by 40-foot cedar fence and painted to match nearby trees. Less than 30 feet of the tower would be above the tree line, AT&T said.

The tower was first proposed by AT&T this past December. The company said the tower would provide increased phone coverage throughout South Whidbey and improve wireless and emergency 911 phone reception and high-speed broadband Internet service.

AT&T officials told the port that the tower’s emissions would be well below the standards set by the Federal Communications Commission. Local law enforcement and fire officials have endorsed the tower as a way to improve emergency communications on South Whidbey.

But the proposed site would be about 35 feet from the Dorothy Cleveland Trail, a popular outdoor recreation area which starts at the Possession Point waterfront.

Some nearby homeowners object to the tower, saying that it would be an eyesore and a possible health hazard. They also say recreational use of the park was guaranteed by a 1985 estate bequest of the land acquired by the port.

State open-space officials, however, have ruled that the land is not “encumbered,” and that the port is free to build the tower or sell the land.

Some residents of the area have vowed to find a way to purchase the property themselves, perhaps involving the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, to preserve the property for recreation.

Field said that if the property is split into two parcels, each greater than 10 acres, the lower portion would include water lines and other infrastructure servicing Possession Beach.

The upper portion would include the parcel sought by AT&T for the cell tower.

AT&T initially proposed a five-year lease option, with opportunities to renew over the next 25 years. The lease rate for the initial term would be $750 per month with a 15-percent increase every five years.

AT&T would make a one-time payment of $1,000, and the option period would allow the company to pursue permits from the Island County planning department and the Federal Communications Commission, a process that could take six months.

Field said AT&T had a preliminary hearing before the county planning department recently, and was granted permission to move ahead with the permit process.

He said that if the port decides to sell the upper portion of the property, commissioners also could attach an easement provision to the sale guaranteeing public recreational use of the Dorothy Cleveland Trail.

Commissioners also could consider granting a lease to AT&T for the cell-phone tower before putting the property up for sale, Field said, a possibility he described as “not likely.”

“Both would have an impact on the value of the property,” Field said of an easement and a lease.

“These are all questions the commissioners have to figure out,” he said.

The proposed cell-phone tower has been the focus of controversy in the South End for months.

On May 11, commissioners agreed to a 90-day waiting period before moving ahead with project.

Later that same month, “Wanted”-style posters were spotted at several South End locations bearing the pictures of Port Commissioners Geoff Tapert and Chris Jerome. Port Commissioner Curt Gordon didn’t make the cut.

Under the word “REWARD!!!” is the question: “Find out what these two guys have to personally gain by destroying one of Whidbey Island’s nicest trails?”

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