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Assembly agrees to hear WiMax tower appeal

Mendenhall residents seek to air concerns about 150-foot tower

Posted: Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Juneau Assembly agreed Monday to hear an appeal by a group of residents aimed at stalling or stopping the construction of a 150-foot communications tower on Mendenhall Loop Road.

The date for the appeal hearing has yet to be set. The Assembly will act as a quasi-judicial body and hear arguments challenging and defending a Jan. 13 decision by the Juneau Planning Commission to issue a conditional use permit to representatives of AT&T Alascom to build the tower.

The company intends to expand its WiMax high-speed Internet service across virtually the entire Mendenhall Valley with that tower and a second 180-foot tower it is requesting on Montana Creek Road. The Planning Commission postponed a decision on the latter tower pending requests for additional information.

The appeal was put together by a handful of area residents -specifically Bill and Ruth Newman, Tim Strand and George Danner - with a range of concerns, including fear of adverse effects on health, community aesthetics and property values.

According to staff reports, the towers would comply with federal regulations that set safe levels of exposure to various electromagnetic energies, have no measurable effects on property values and have a limited visual impact.

The residents also are seeking a moratorium on new towers pending the creation of a uniform and comprehensive policy for their placement, instead of the uncoordinated, piecemeal permitting process towers go through now.

In other meeting news, the Assembly:

• gave its initial approval for a rezoning to accommodate a four-story, $45 million downtown office building the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority is planning for the old subport property to lease to the state. A second reading and public hearing is required for final adoption of the rezoning.

• awarded a $10.1 million contract to McGraw Custom Construction for terminal renovations at Juneau International Airport with extras. The engineer's estimate for work was $12 million.

• awarded a $1.7 million contract for the reconstruction of Radcliffe Road and its underlying sewer and water systems. The engineers estimate for the work was $1.9 million.

• committed $1.4 million of excess sales tax money to capital improvements for the city's sewer and water utilities. The money will help several infrastructure projects related to aging sewer and water facilities and offset a previously planned utility rate increase, keeping the rates flat for a year.

Assemblyman Merrill Sanford, who chairs the Public Works and Facilities Committee through which most construction projects pass, commented on the low contract bids.

"It looks like a good construction season ahead of us. A lot of contractors are tightening up, sharpening their pencils," Sanford said.

Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail jeremy.hsieh@juneauempire.com.



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