New T-Mobile tower a tough 'cell' for some

180-foot pole likely to appear soon

A small group of Firwood Road/Music Camp Road neighbors are trying to stop the proposed T-Mobile cell tower that they say would unnecessarily ruin their view of the mountains.

Clackamas County Planner Linda Preisz says that, barring some major discovery, the final hearing on April 26 to issue a conditional use permit for a monopole at Music Camp Road is already a done deal because T-Mobile's proposal already met the county's requirements.

But Stuart Lloyd, Kristen Harris and a couple of their neighbors hope to present that major discovery. They've been scrambling for the past week, trying to find information in time for the hearing that could lead to an alteration or cancellation of the project. All comments to the county are due Thursday, April 12.

The gray monopole would rise 180 feet into the air - more than double the height of the controversial twin billboards that are expected to appear at the corner of Highway 26 and Haley Road in Boring. It would cover the east end of Highway 26 in Sandy, bridging the gap between Sandy and Brightwood towers - typically known by T-Mobile customers as a dead zone of cell service.

Lloyd's property - where's he's lived for just one year - is adjacent to the land where the monopole would sit.

'It's directly in front of my view to the north, blocking my view of Mount St. Helens,' said Lloyd, 56. 'It will very much be an eyesore.' Not only that, he says it would decrease his property value.

Kristen Harris, 37, a resident of the area since 2000, agrees. 'I'd be able to see it from my front window. I don't want to look at it or have my neighbors have to look at it. We didn't choose to live out here to look at a tower.'

But both Harris and Lloyd know they have to have more than that. Communications laws prohibit governments from denying a cell tower application on the basis of blocking one's scenic view, a possible reduction in property value and perceived health risks, among other criteria.

Lloyd says his strongest argument against the tower would be proving that T-Mobile could and should improve its service by co-locating on one of several existing towers in the area.

'They could put it on a (Bonneville Power Administration) power pole,' he said. 'There's another tower a little bit farther to the northeast within 2 miles.'

But Andrew Nenninger, general manager of engineering with T-Mobile's Portland office, says constructing new poles is somewhat of a last resort, and that if they could have done something different, they would have.

'We always try to look for co-location - on existing towers, utility poles, existing infrastructure,' Nenninger said. 'If those don't work, we'll continue to walk down the line of options and see what we can do on our own. Our process is not to just do that.'

T-Mobile, which approached the Music Camp Road landowner, maintains that a new pole near Shorty's Corner is the only way to achieve the kind of coverage goals the company has.

'When we look at customer expectations, we find they have grown dramatically over the last few years,' Nenninger said. 'People expect to have coverage where they live, work and play, and we're clearly not providing that (in the area immediately southeast of Sandy). This is an area of opportunity for us.'

Harris said she's skeptical that T-Mobile's concept maps, which use computer models to predict cell coverage, are accurate.

'I don't believe their agenda in writing is what their actual agenda is,' Harris said. 'They could get (other companies) to put their stuff on their tower, turn around and lease it back and make money on it.'

Andy Waterman, president of the Firwood Community Planning Organization (CPO), said the cell tower's opponents most likely would be outnumbered by others in the CPO who would want it.

'There's no question cell service would tremendously improve,' he said. 'There are people who would very much like to have a cell phone, and they'll probably be in favor of (the tower). But it is going to affect the view of some people. Is it something we want to try to stop? I don't know.'

Waterman said he'd like to see T-Mobile move the poles 50 to 100 feet so it would be behind more trees, giving the property owners more of a visual buffer.

'But there's no (compelling) reason for them to move it if it's only for a view,' Waterman said.

As far as the visual impact goes, 'We always try to be as sensitive as possible to the community,' Nenninger said. 'Hopefully by going with the monopole - as opposed to the erector set-type lattice tower - it will diminish the visual impact as much as possible. We'll try to place it so it's around some trees and different things, so the impact is somewhat muted by the foreground.'

Having a pole at all is anticlimactic to the way of life people choose when they move to the Firwood area, Harris said. She says local residents should know that being out in the country means exactly that - you trade city conveniences for wide open spaces and breathtaking views.

'It's a different quality of life,' Harris said. 'We aren't offered DSL, high-speed cable Internet at all. It's part of what you get when you live out here. We bought our house because of the view; we didn't buy it because we wanted to look at a 180-foot cell tower. It's relaxed, it's peaceful, and it's why we moved out here and not in the city.'