But nearby 5-acre, Soldotna-owned parcel next in contention leasing

Tsalteshi Trails to remain tower-free

Posted: Wednesday, November 22, 2000

The first step in resolving differences is making your voice heard. The second step is looking for workable alternatives. The third step is finding consensus.

When Tsalteshi Trails Association Chair Penny McClain heard of AT&T Wireless Communication's proposal to establish a communication facility on a 75-by-75-foot portion of land already leased to the trails group by the Kenai Peninsula Borough, she contacted members of the association.

Did outdoor enthusiasts want to walk, jog or ski in the shadow of a 180-foot tower?

When association members said they weren't sure they wanted the tower looming over the wooded area south of Soldotna, McClain carried those concerns to Kenai Peninsula Borough Planner Roy Dudley and borough assembly member Pete Sprague, of Soldotna.

Looking for a win-win, Dudley and AT&T have found an alternative that brings the city of Soldotna into the picture.

In July, Borough Mayor Dale Bagley signed the lease with Tsalteshi Trails Association, in which the group agreed to maintain, develop and manage the trail system for the specific benefit of the borough school district and public and private use and events generally. The lease states that at the borough's discretion, portions of the area may be leased to other entities as well.

In August, AT&T submitted its proposal to the borough.

"We do have a 10-year lease and a 10-year plan," McClain said. "Every encroachment makes it hard to satisfy the work that we've proposed over the next 10 years."

Completing his review of AT&T's request with Tsalteshi's concerns in mind, Dudley discovered an alternative -- a nearby 5-acre tract owned by the city of Soldotna and designated as the future site for a reservoir. With approximately the same elevation, it appeared the city's site would allow the wireless service company to achieve its goal of enhancing cellular coverage in the Soldotna area, while removing the facility from land leased to Tsalteshi Trails.

"I received confirmation from AT&T that the Soldotna reservoir site would be a technically feasible alternative," Dudley said.

Next, Dudley took the idea to Soldotna City Manager Tom Boedeker, and Boedeker took it to the city council.

"I briefed the council and told them generally what was involved and what we'd be looking at," Boedeker said. "We acquired the property from the borough several years ago for a reservoir site."

Boedeker said the city was looking at the site to see if AT&T's facility could be accommodated.

"If it can be worked without conflicting with our uses, then it's something that I would probably recommend," Boedeker said.

Mike Broom, director of corporate communications for AT&T Wireless Communications, confirmed that the city site is equivalent to the borough's. Basic terms of the lease agreement as originally proposed by AT&T include a five-year lease, with the option to renew the lease for five additional five-year terms, an initial option payment of $1,000 upon execution of the agreement and annual rental payments of $6,000 upon commencement of construction.

According to Broom, the original proposal also included a 3 percent annual increase.

"The terms and conditions that we've proposed will remain the same," Broom said of the refocus from Kenai Peninsula Borough land to the city of Soldotna site.

Whether this alternative will find consensus is yet to be seen.

"I think it was pretty well determined that the tower wasn't going to negatively impact the trail system," said Dudley, adding that he follows a "greatest-public-good, least-private-harm" guideline. "But when this other site turned out to be technically equivalent, then it was decided to approach the city to see if they wanted the tower. And ... that means they get the income stream."

Sprague said that from his viewpoint, only one thing has changed.

"The impact on the trails is exactly the same," the borough assembly member said. "The only difference is who gets the revenue."

And McClain still has concerns.

"It's nice it won't encroach on trail property, but I still don't like the idea of a big tower out there," she said.

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