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Borough cell tower plan gets public treatment

Posted: March 27, 2014 - 11:09pm

A plan still in the draft stage would put more restrictions on cellphone companies when applying for and building cell towers in the City and Borough of Juneau.

Because of a recent upcropping of cellphone towers in the city, including the controversial Spuhn Island tower, the city decided to expedite work on the Wireless Telecommunications Master Plan.

“Spuhn Island has kind of come to a boil,” so the assembly decided “we need to stop letting this sit on the backburner,” city planning manager Travis Goddard told the Empire.

Seven new towers have gone up in the city since early-2012, and city leaders have talked about the master plan since 2009, Goddard said.

The plan would regulate the height and look of the cell towers, as well as where they can be placed. Through the plan, every cell tower would need a conditional use permit before it could be built — a process that requires a public hearing.

“We want to create a single process that works every time, no matter what the use is,” Goddard said of the new plan.

Before a draft of the master plan came out in early March, “theoretically we didn’t have any regulations” on tall cell towers, Goddard said. That left the Planning Commission to be “bullied” by cellphone companies, he added.

“Having an ordinance would allow the Planning Commission to bully them and say, ‘You need to make your case, you haven’t provided enough information,’” Goddard said.

A moratorium on cell tower permitting in the city was put in place by the CBJ Assembly on Feb. 24, which means no cell company applications will be taken or approved by the city until May 14, when the moratorium expires.

The moratorium is meant to protect the city from any unwanted or unsightly towers until the master plan can be put in place and towers can be more stringently regulated, Goddard said.

“We don’t want that flood (of applications) before we can start making good decisions,” he said.

Goddard and city planner Eric Feldt led the second of two community meetings on the telecommunications plan Thursday night at the University of Alaska, Southeast.

Attendees watched a presentation on the plan, asked questions and filled out a survey on how they envision the development of cell towers in the future — how tall they’ll be, where they’ll be located and what they’ll look like.

Right now, Juneau has 58 wireless telecommunications towers that have been built over decades, and not all of which are cell towers. A map of existing towers can be found online at

The newest cell towers are the Spuhn Island tower, one on Montana Creek Road and one by the Mendenhall Auto Center, Feldt said.

Ever-improving phones and the service they demand requires frequent infrastructure updates, and because of Juneau’s unique, textured topography, a lot of towers are needed to make sure everyone has coverage and isn’t being blocked by one mountain or another, Feldt said.

Currently, the companies with towers in Juneau are Verizon, AT&T, GCI and ACS. Verizon is responsible for the Spuhn Island tower.

Gene Randall, a Juneau resident who can see the blinking red light that tops the Spuhn Island tower from his home, said the city “literally ignored” its own rules when putting in the 155-foot tower.

He said the new plan is in response to the backlash that followed building the Spuhn Island tower and that it will hopefully ensure a similar occurrence doesn’t happen in the future.

“Public agencies are responsible to the public and not corporations,” he said.

Frank Rue, another meeting attendee, said he lived within view of the flashing light at the top of the Fish Creek tower until enough public outcry got the light removed about a year ago.

“It literally affects you physically,” Rue said of the blinking beacon. “It’s unbelievably stressful.”

He said that instead of topping towers that could be flight hazards with lights, the city shouldn’t allow tall towers to be built in flight paths.

“It’s counter-intuitive,” he said.

Goddard said that the comment he hears most often is that Juneau just shouldn’t allow any more towers, period.

“If it was that simple, it would be a totally different discussion,” he said.

The assembly will discuss the Wireless Telecommunications Master Plan at its April 28 and May 5 meetings, and will vote on the plan at its May 19 meeting. Public testimony will be taken at the April 28 and May 19 meetings.


• A map of existing towers can be found online at

• To view Juneau’s Wireless Telecommunications Master Plan in its entirety, visit

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Argh Loud
Argh Loud 03/28/14 - 05:48 am

you don't want towers built then you should show up at the public hearings BEFORE the plans are approved. Otherwise you're complicit in their approval.

joe hosey
joe hosey 03/28/14 - 09:25 am
blinking light

If a blinking light bothers people that much , maybe they should live out in the bush where they will be ensured solitude. living in a community , you should expect lights sounds and smells other than those that you generate. So many complainers in this town , it's a wonder anything gets built at all.

Tom Leston
Tom Leston 03/28/14 - 10:21 am
People living in a community

People living in a community should have empathy for others.
The people incapable of empathy for others should be the ones living in the bush.

Jan Willson
Jan Willson 03/28/14 - 05:47 pm
I really do not fathom why it

I really do not fathom why it took CBJ this long to recognize that a plan was necessary.

Lorraine Murray
Lorraine Murray 03/29/14 - 11:49 am
Master Cell Tower Plan - good

Master Cell Tower Plan - good idea
Ensuring Public Involvement - good idea
Empathy - makes good economic sense
Our city officials should plan, engage the public, connect the dots and have empathy for others so we can avoid tragedies like the mudslide disaster in Oso WA.

Snohomish county officials ignored years of information presented to them,
they did not connect the dots, they lacked empathy and understanding
and so people died.

As with the Cell Tower Master Plan, we need a master plan (ordinance) for fireworks.
Juneau residents have been complaining for years to CBJ and the assembly about the growing use of fireworks in residential zones during the 4th of July and on New Year's.
The hazards of fireworks are too hard to avoid when used near homes. CBJ needs to stop "bullying" residents into enduring these hazardous fireworks and start taking some action to protect the public. If CBJ is going to allow the public to set off fireworks then CBJ has an obligation to mitigate the impacts. One option for CBJ is to designate one or two areas for firework activity in "appropriate" zones.This way people can still use fireworks and residential areas remain safe for people, children and pets. This is important because during the holiday is when families want to be outside in their yards or out walking through their neighborhood. Designating areas is a Win/Win, it is good public policy and we do it all the time... we have smoking areas, dog areas, dog less areas, areas for guns, areas for sports… etc.

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