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New tower closes Whidbey cell grid

Wendi Bueler looks for just the right spot to call on her cell phone at Ken
Wendi Bueler looks for just the right spot to call on her cell phone at Ken's Korner Shopping Center. The new T-Mobile cell tower behind her should boost cell signals for callers signed up with a number of phone companies.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

By MATT JOHNSON

Record editor

An unused permit for a cellular phone tower will be one company's gain, but perhaps not another company's loss today.

If a crew of construction workers erecting a 150-foot cellular telephone tower over the past two weeks finishes its work as planned today, a number of cell phone users will start getting a clear signal in the area around Ken's Korner Shopping Center.

The tower, which is owned by T-Mobile -- previously known as VoiceStream Wireless -- was built on a permit originally submitted to Island County by Qwest. Laura Altschul, a spokesperson for T-Mobile, said her company recently purchased the permit after Qwest officials decided not to build their own cell tower.

The new tower, which is painted green at its base to blend in with surrounding trees and "cumulus white" on its upper half to blend with the sky, is part of T-Mobile's effort to provide continuous communication in all communities on or near the Interstate 5 corridor. At the moment, most of Whidbey Island is a dead spot for the company, something Altschul said T-Mobile is trying to fix.

"The total game plan is to do several more sites," she said.

The tower ties in with a smaller cell antenna the company owns near the Clinton ferry dock and a future antenna to be built in Langley. Eventually, the tower will host not only T-Mobile reception and transmission equipment, but installations for a number of other wireless companies.

Wendi Bueler, a student at the Clinton branch of Skagit Valley College, said Monday it is almost impossible to make a call from outside her classroom at Ken's Korner. She said she will welcome any improvement in service.

T-Mobile's Altschul said her company was fortunate to be able to purchase a permit to construct the tower. She said Island County is known in her industry as a tough place to get permission for such facilities.

Phil Bakke, director of the county's planning department and author of much of the legal language governing the construction of cell towers in Island County, said Tuesday that T-Mobile has found an ideal location with the former Qwest permit.

"That's a pretty good site," he said.

Bakke said his department does not have any other permits for large cell towers in process. However, he said, a number of wireless companies will be doing power pole swapouts in the near future -- that is, they will replace power poles with cell antennas of roughly the same size.

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