City delays decision on towers

Department seeks more information about plan for 180-foot structures

Posted: Monday, July 07, 2008

The city on Thursday announced it would delay a Juneau Planning Commission action to issue permits for two 180-foot AT&T communications towers proposed for the Mendenhall Valley.

The Community Development Department asked for more information about the towers before presenting the request to the commission, said Dale Pernula, the department's director.

The application was scheduled for Tuesday's regular session.

The new towers are part of AT&T's expansion of WiMAX, a wireless Internet service, in the valley. If permitted, they will be the largest towers in the city, where most towers are lower than 100 feet.

Last year, the telecommunications giant began testing its Alaska WiMAX service in Juneau.

A third AT&T tower planned for Channel Drive also is under review by the city. Mike Garnett of Port Townsend, Wash., filed for the permit.

Glacier Valley Baptist Church owns the tower site at 3921 Mendenhall Loop Road, and West Glacier Development owns the Montana Creek tower site. Chris Lictfjeld, a telecommunications project manager, applied for both permits.

Tim Strand lives near the planned tower site on Montana Creek Road. He's concerned that the city has no comprehensive plan to deal with towers now or in the future, as wireless grows more prevalent in society.

Strand, a communications layperson, said even he knows there are alternatives to big towers. Cities and towns all over the United States and Europe are placing smaller nodes in more discreet locations, providing equal line-of-sight coverage to a single tall tower.

"Once we start granting variances towers will go up all over town," Strand said.

AT&T said there is no chance to redesign the new towers or install smaller towers. This application has parameters, said Robin Minard, AT&T spokesperson.

Strand wonders about the valley's views and effects of flashing red lights standing well above the trees in the Mendenhall Glacier's foreground. He recommends using valley streetlights as wireless transmitters.

"The height is very specific," Minard said.

Top city managers were not available Thursday to discuss tower regulations or future plans. Members of the planning commission don't speak publicly on matters before them.

Towers under 50 feet do not need commission approval, Pernula said. Anything over that height can have conditions applied by the commission, he said. Any conditions would seek to balance commercial development goals with neighborhood concerns and quality of life issues, he said.

Referring to Juneau's mostly pristine environment, Strand said, "It is the natural environment that attracts tourism dollars from all over the globe."

• Contact reporter Greg Skinner at 523-2258 pr

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