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Purchase offer to buy cell tower land meets its fate

Clark and Marcia Monma along with their dog Galina pause during a walk through the forest near where a cell tower is proposed. There are markers on stakes and on some of the trees, which they fear will be cut down if their offer to purchase the land is rejected. - Jim Larsen / The Record
Clark and Marcia Monma along with their dog Galina pause during a walk through the forest near where a cell tower is proposed. There are markers on stakes and on some of the trees, which they fear will be cut down if their offer to purchase the land is rejected.
— image credit: Jim Larsen / The Record

After 2 ½ years of fighting a cellular telephone tower planned near their property, Clyde and Marcia Monma finally offered to buy the land.

They will soon have their answer from the Port of South Whidbey.

The couple offered $250,000 in early November to purchase the property from the Port of South Whidbey, which plans to lease part of the port’s Possession Beach Park land to AT&T for a cell tower. The move would improve mobile phone service for parts of the island as well as the Mukilteo area of the mainland, and bring the port approximately $13,000 annually in lease payments.

However, the port and AT&T have not yet signed a lease, and the Monmas gave the commissioners until Dec. 12 to decide on their offer to buy the tower site and associated parklands, “to keep it forever as a public use park.”

The three port commissioners are scheduled to discuss the purchase offer at their Tuesday, Dec. 11 meeting at 7:30 p.m. in the meeting room of the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District office, 5475 Maxwelton Road.

Port President Curt Gordon said this week a decision will likely be made that night because of the Monmas’ deadline. “They want to know by Dec. 12,” he said.

The Monmas have only three noses to count in anticipation of the vote. In a recent conversation, they listed Commissioner Chris Jerome as supportive of the cell tower “no matter what.”

They described Commissioner Dennis Gregoire as “reasonable,” suggesting he may be open to vote against the cell tower and in favor of the Monmas’ purchase offer.

They are less sure of Commissioner Curt Gordon, who serves as president of the board of commissioners. “He’s the lynchpin,” Clyde Monma said. “If he decides not to do it, it won’t happen.”

The Monmas are offering to purchase more than just the cell tower site, which they say will be set back about 30-feet from a high bluff with a 60 degree slope. The port separated 10 upland acres from the park and put it up for sale, and the Monmas also want to buy that and another portion further down the slope.

Commissioner Jerome complained in a letter last month that the Monmas offered to purchase the two parcels of land, not just the one the cell tower would sit on. He was clearly against giving up the second parcel, which borders the Possession Beach parking lot.

But the Monmas say they want to make sure all the upper portion of the park property is protected. The park is best known for its waterfront, boat launch and picnic area.

“I don’t trust them to keep the bottom portion a park,” Monma. “We’d put a park easement on the whole thing.”

The Monmas’ offered prices has been called too low, but they say $250,000 is all they can afford. “We’re not going to go any higher,” Marcia Monma said. “Already we’d have to take out a mortgage on our house and take from our retirement fund; we’ve got to stop there.”

The couple run a business out of their house called College Search Consultants, which helps young people get into good schools. The Gordon family has been a client, they said.

The Monmas have submitted a petition with 500 names against the cell tower to the port. Besides the danger they see to their own house, they and others are concerned about possible health effects from a nearby cell tower and its visual impact, with its access road, protective fence and the tower itself built in a park. “It would basically look like it’s coming out of our chimney,” Marcia Monma said.

Clyde Monma added the cell tower will need a noisy generator for when the power goes out, and that it’s so close to Paine Field, located several miles across Puget Sound, that it will need a blinking red light on top.

“They basically would be polluting our neighborhood,” said Marcia Monma.

Even if the port commissioners vote not to sell their property and to continue pursuing the cell tower lease, the Monmas will keep on fighting the cell tower. They say Island County needs to give its permission and approve several variances, including the tower’s distance from the edge of the bluff and their property.

“It’s a 145 foot tower sitting 155 feet from our house,” Monma said. “It has to be one tower’s length away from anyone’s property.” His wife added that AT&T will need a variance to build so close to the bluff.

However, many trees in the area already have plastic ribbons around them, and there are stakes in the ground. The Monmas realize somebody’s planning something, but they and others won’t quit.

“They held a hearing and the whole neighborhood was there yelling that them,” Clark Monma said. “The county’s the next place to go to stop it.”

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