Cell company fined for tower lighting

This T-Mobile cell tower, at Highway 20 and Morris Road south of Coupeville, was found to be in violation of Island County
This T-Mobile cell tower, at Highway 20 and Morris Road south of Coupeville, was found to be in violation of Island County's cell tower ordinance for placing warning lights on top without approval of the Island County Planning Department. The light has been removed.
— image credit: Jon Jensen

Island County officials dropped the hammer on a Bellevue-based wireless company for violation of the county's cell tower ordinance.

The company, T-Mobile, formerly known as VoiceStream, was fined $2,800 for the unapproved placement of lights on a power pole-mounted wireless communication antenna.

The pole, at 180 Parker Road, near the intersection of Highway 20 and Morris Road south of Coupeville, was erected with red aircraft warning lights on top. That, said Island County Planning Director Phil Bakke, is illegal.

"A light on a tower on private property without a public hearing is in direct violation to county code," he said last week.

Baake was irritated by T-Mobile's violation.

"We had a good working relationship with them up until this point," he said.

The red lights were placed on the tower to warn low flying aircraft. The company was assessed a civil penalty of $1,000 for erecting the tower with the light and assessed a civil penalty of $200 per day from the date of the county's Dec. 3 violation order. The lights came off on Dec 11.

Baake and code enforcement officer Matt Kukuk witnessed the removal of the lights and the top 10 feet of the tower.

Island County's permit process differs for power pole antennae and cell towers. Power pole "swap outs" require a building permit; a cell tower on public or private property requires a land use permit and a public hearing.

Baake said the county had been working with T-Mobile during the entire permit process for the Morris Road pole.

"That tower was not supposed to have a light on it," he said. "It doesn't need it."

Aside from this incident, Baake sees swap outs are win-win situations for the public. They don't look much different from pre-existing power poles, and pole rental, which goes to Puget Sound Energy, helps offset electricity prices, he said.

Other Southend swap out locations along Highway 525 include one near the intersection with Fish Road, another one mile north of Freeland, at the Greenbank Farm and at Race Road.

Since last summer, the planning department has issued six permits to T-Mobile for swap outs on Whidbey Island and one on Camano Island. The company recently built a larger cell tower near Ken's Korner Mall in Clinton.

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