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Possession Point cell tower put on ice
LANGLEY — The Port of South Whidbey commissioners have unanimously decided to do nothing about a proposed cell tower above Possession Point Waterfront Park.
“We are tabling the idea for 90 days to see if local residents, or anyone else, is interested in buying the roughly 11-acre parcel themselves,” Port Commissioner Geoff Tapert said during last week’s commission meeting.
“We’re open to anything at this point,” Tapert said.
The cell-tower proposal was first broached by AT&T last December. The company has said that construction of the tower will provide increased phone coverage throughout South Whidbey and improve wireless and emergency 911 phone reception as well as high-speed broadband Internet service.
The lease area in question is on top of a 400-foot hill on land owned by the port.
Nearby homeowners object to the tower because they believe that future recreational use of the park was guaranteed by the initial estate bequest of the land in 1985 and its subsequent acquisition by the Port of South Whidbey.
But the state agency responsible for monitoring open spaces — the Recreation and Conservation Office — has ruled that the land is not “encumbered,” and that the port can build the tower or sell the land to someone else.
“The grant manager from the RCO told us the tower would lie outside the protected area,” port manager Ed Field told commissioners and the 20 homeowners attending the meeting.
Potential “new owners” might include the Friends of the Dorothy Cleveland Trail.
“We would have preferred the RCO had said AT&T can’t build up there, but we’re going to continue the fight to preserve that open space,” said neighborhood spokeswoman Leslie Tidball.
“We’ve made an initial contact with the Whidbey Camano Land Trust to see if they’re interested,” she said. “Shortly, we’re going to meet and see if everyone wants to pay for an appraiser to assess the property’s cost.”
She said that while the group appreciates the port’s open-minded approach, there are still many questions to be answered.
Port Commissioner Curt Gordon wants to draws a line in the sand on the issue.
“If it’s a park, we shouldn’t allow a tower,” he said. “If it’s not a park, I feel it’s our responsibility to do what we can to encourage economic benefits.”
When asked by Tapert if he would agree to sell the land, Gordon didn’t bat an eye.
“Yes, the port should not be the owner of an upland park,” he answered.
AT&T’s initial proposal is for a lease option to run for five years, with periodic renewal terms 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. The option period allows AT&T to get approval of all of its required permits. The facility would need to be approved by both the Island County planning department and the Federal Communications Commission, likely a six-month process.
Gordon said he didn’t think the initial lease rate was enough, noting that typically the phone company would offer other carriers — including Verizon and T-Mobile — use of the tower in the future.
“Any lease would have to spell out the details for now and the years to come,” he noted. “Any agreement we make with AT&T would have to take that into consideration, so that as the company’s income rose, so would ours.”
The imprint of the tower would be approximately 40 feet by 40 feet, surrounded by a cedar fence located roughly 35 feet from the Dorothy Cleveland Trail, which starts at the Possession Point waterfront.
The 140-foot-high cell tower would be painted to match nearby trees and only the top 20 percent of the tower would be seen above the tree line.
The tower’s emissions will be well below the standards set by the Federal Communications Commission, AT&T experts have said.
Tapert and Port Commissioner Chris Jerome also said they were aware of the emergency needs of first responders. Fire District 3 officials have expressed support for a cell tower, stressing it would improve communications.
Jerome added that should the port decide to sell the land, it would be up to the new owners to negotiate with AT&T.
Possession Point homeowners Marcia and Clyde Monma wanted to be sure commissioners understood the natural setting that they feel would be lost if a cell tower was built.
“We walked the trail and took photographs to demonstrate the verdant, but fragile, nature of the environment,” Clyde Monma said. They then offered color sets of the photos to be entered into the port’s record, complete with captions.