Soldotna residents fight plans for cellular tower

Posted: Tuesday, February 20, 2001

SOLDOTNA (AP) -- Residents living near Skyline Drive are voicing strong opposition to a plan by communications giant AT&T Wireless to put a 180-foot cellular telephone tower in their neighborhood.

Their effort is being met with some success. As a result of a special work session last week with the Soldotna City Council, an ordinance granting AT&T a 30-year lease on the proposed site was tabled indefinitely.

It was the second time AT&T Wireless had been thwarted. It had wanted to put the tower on Kenai Peninsula Borough property elsewhere on the hill, but ran into opposition from the Tsalteshi Trail Association, which manages several miles of trails in the vicinity. The company then approached the city, which owns a 400- by 550-foot tract of land at the acme of the hill, about 100 feet off the east end of Lincoln Avenue.

Though outside city limits, the borough gave the city the land as a future site for a water supply tank. AT&T had wanted to lease part of the property.

Residents were not happy with the plan. Their neighborhood is devoid of power poles, since the utilities are buried. The tower would have been topped by a big red light.

They were not hesitant to express their disapproval at the special meeting.

''I have to have this thing by my house so someone can pull a phone out of their pocket?'' asked property owner John Atkinson in response to a comment that the new tower would provide better reception inside buildings downtown. ''Aren't there any phones in these buildings?''

Ron Fowler, real estate manager for AT&T in Portland, Ore., said that was one consideration, but providing emergency communications was the primary intent.

''We hope the residents will see a long-term benefit for emergency service,'' he said. ''We need to balance the needs of the public at large. To meet the service needs of the city, we must be in that area.''

Fowler said that hill is the best place to improve cellular phone service inside Soldotna and up and down the Sterling Highway.

Resident Chuck Osmond brought up the issue of interference with low-flying aircraft using the Soldotna airport. He said many planes fly much lower than the proposed height of the tower.

Walter Miller, the field operations manager for AT&T, said the company has filed applications with the Federal Aviation Administration and takes their rules very seriously.

Osmond asked AT&T to consider another site just off the northeast corner of the Skyview High School property on land owned by the borough. It is in a spot that was once part of the Tsalteshi Trail, but is no longer used, according to Pete Sprague, president of the trail association and a member of the borough assembly.

Miller said AT&T would do a survey using the latitude and longitude of the site so a signal strength pattern can be calculated. He added that after the survey, the company will contact the owners with their findings.

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