Neighbors organize against cell tower
June 25, 2008 · Updated 2:04 PM
"Island County is proud of its new cell tower ordinance, but those feelings aren't shared by one rural neighborhood where property owners have banded together in an effort to stop a proposed tower near their homes.Island County Planning Director Phil Bakke said the county ordinance, only 18 months old, is about as strict as the county is allowed by federal law.According to Bakke, the cell phone industry isn't fond of the county ordinance. The industry doesn't like the Island County code, he said. But they decided not to sue.The county ordinance, among other things, limits the height of towers by basing the allowable height on the height of established trees in the area; requires that each tower be capable of housing three transmitters, in an effort to reduce the number of towers needed; and encourages companies to place antennas on existing structures such as power poles or light poles.But where the county sees a strong ordinance, a group of property owners at the top of Swede Hill Road see too many loopholes. So they're asking that changes be made so people living in residential areas don't have to live next to what they consider an unsightly and physically harmful structure.The Swede Hill neighbors have turned Steve Eward's kitchen into a sort of war room, with the table piled high with copies of the cell tower application, the Island County ordinance, site plan review application and environmental checklist. They're preparing arguments against the tower during the public comment period which ends Aug. 8.The 150-foot tower is proposed by Sprint PCS at 3490 Swede Hill Road, on property neighbors say is owned by Ray Kinskie. Among those fighting the proposal are Hal Jacobson, David Ott, Steve Eward, Diane Kaufman, Shelley Black, Will Black and Dave Ross.Reviewing Sprint's application, the group finds plenty to laugh about. It mentions squirrels and mice as affected animal life, but makes no mention of the area's deer, coyotes, raccoons, rabbits and farm animals. The application cites song birds in the area, but ignores the many herons, osprey, owls, bald eagles, banded pigeons and redtail hawks.The application is full of holes, said Shelley Black.The group is also concerned about the height of the tower and its danger to low flying airplanes in the area, as well as how far it will rise above surrounding trees. The county has a formula based on tree height, and the neighbors say 150 feet is far too high for their area.Neighbors fighting cell towers is not unusual on South Whidbey. There have been various battles through the years. That's what promoted the county's new ordinance. But this group is particularly well organized. They even have a name: CAUTION (Citizens Against Unwanted Towers in Our Neighborhood), as well as a website (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/iccaution), e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org) and a CAUTION contact telephone number (579.2797).Although few in number at present, CAUTION is planning to recruit more members by sending out a mailer to people living on two rural routes in the area.Cell tower opponents always raise health concerns based on microwave emissions, but that argument has been taken away by the federal government. According to the Planning Department's Bakke, a Federal Communications Commission rule approved in 1997 precludes local governments from taking health concerns into consideration in the tower permitting process.Nonetheless, the Swede Hill neighbors are worried about health affects of a nearby microwave tower. Health is a major concern whether our rights to consider it have been taken away or not, said Shelley Black.Most of the neighbors admit to owning cell phones themselves, and they say they're not trying to stop the industry. They just want to limit the number of cell towers in Island County and locate them away from residential areas.They're hopeful the Island County Commissioners will listen.Why wouldn't they? asked Steve Eward. They want our votes. "