Juneau Assembly halts cell phone towers until plan in place

Noting the photo behind Assembly members, North Douglas resident Gene Randall compared a cellphone tower on Spuhn Island to a fictitious one at the Mendenhall Glacier. (Photo by Rosemarie Alexander/KTOO)

Noting the photo behind Assembly members, North Douglas resident Gene Randall compared a cellphone tower on Spuhn Island to a fictitious one at the Mendenhall Glacier. (Photo by Rosemarie Alexander/KTOO)

The Juneau Assembly has placed a moratorium on cell phone towers while it works on a wireless communications master plan.

The moratorium is prompted by complaints from North Douglas Highway and Fritz Cove Road residents who say a cell phone tower on Spuhn Island keeps them awake at night and is blight on Juneau views. The 300-foot tower within the airport flight path has a flashing red light at the top of the tower and two steady red lights lower down at night, and a flashing strobe during the day.

North Douglas resident Gene Randall brought his concerns to the Assembly nearly five months ago, and says he’s still waiting for a reply.

“Imagine, if you will, a strobing, 155-foot cell tower on the signature view of the Mendenhall Glacier. It would be unacceptable. Juneau has a huge vested interest and financial interest in protecting view shed.”

The tower was approved by the Juneau Planning Commission in 2012. Deputy city manager Rob Steedle told the Assembly their options are limited, short of moving the tower.

“We have no standing, the appeal period is over, we don’t have any options at this time.”

Jon and Lesley Lyman live at the end of Fritz Cove Road, closest to the Sphun Island tower. Jon Lyman said he also doubts the city has any recourse, but said CBJ should be prepared for Verizon Wireless, which has moved into Alaska. He noted the Verizon television ads that pinpoint its network across the U.S.

“It’s like a bloodstain across the Lower 48.”

Lyman said his research indicates Verizon’s plans for Juneau call for 51 cell phone towers.

“Fifty-one. If we don’t have either a moratorium or a program in the city to site these things properly and see to it that people are well-noticed and know what’s going on, then you’re going to have a replication of this over and over again.”

Assembly member Kate Troll seized the idea of a moratorium and Karen Crane put it into a motion.

“That we do not consider any further cellphone applications while we are engaged in developing an ordinance and revising a master plan, so that we’re looking at least until May before we would consider any other cell phone applications. Unless as Miss Troll indicated, they dealt with a health, life, safety issue.”

The vote on Crane’s motion was 5 to 4, with Assembly members Jerry Nankervis, Carlton Smith, Randy Wanamaker, and Mayor Merrill Sanford voting against it.

Nankervis said he didn’t want to close the door on businesses coming into Juneau.

City Attorney Amy Mead said she thought such a moratorium would withstand a challenge in court, because it is short and the CBJ is developing a communications plan.

Beginning this week, the Community Development Department is working on a Wireless Communications Ordinance and Plan. CDD Director Hal Hart said a draft will go before the Planning Commission next month and the Assembly will be voting on an ordinance in late May. He promised there would be plenty of opportunities for public input.

The Assembly also directed the city manager to come up with options for the controversial Spuhn Island tower.