Historical Society discusses putting in a cell tower on Museum property
View from Ridley's
Pinedale Online conceptual showing view of mono-pine from Obo's parking lot on Pine Street.
View of tower tree after leaves have fallen. Pinedale Online conceptual.
by Dawn Ballou, Pinedale Online!
September 14, 2015
The Sublette County Historical Society (SCHS) held a membership meeting on Thursday, August 27th to present a proposal to put a Verizon wireless cellular communication tower on the grounds of the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale. The proposed tower would be in the shape of a mono-pine tree on the south end of the historical society property. Approximately 40 people showed up to listen to the presentation and make comments. The meeting was moderated by Mary Martin from the University of Wyoming Extension Service. Steve Warner, with Centerline Solutions, was present to answer questions representing Verizon.
Verizon first approached the SCHS approximately ten months ago with the idea. Earlier this month they gave the Board of Trustees conceptual sketches and more specific details. The company wants to expand their existing capacity and coverage of Pinedale for the growing demand for wireless data transfer and improved cell reception across town. They propose a 25x50 foot area of land on the museum grounds which would contain the 55 foot tall mono-pine tree and a small building to house their telecommunication equipment. The lease agreement would be for $1,750 per month to the institution, $21,000 for the first year. The amount would increase by 2% each year of what the previous year was. The contract would be for 5 years initially, with four 5-year extension opportunities for the company, amounting to 25-year lifespan of the commitment for the facility to be in place on the grounds. Over the life of the lease, the cell tower would bring in more than $500,000 to the institution. Verizon would like to have the tower go up sometime in 2016.
James Thomas, President of the Sublette County Historical Society, said the arguments pro and con boiled down to two main points. Pro was financial, the cell tower could bring in much-needed money to help the institution fund its ongoing operations. The con argument was mostly the aesthetics. Thomas said the Museum is a 25-year old building that is facing big capital improvement needs in the near future: a new roof, conversion of the fire suppression system from water-based to dry-base, two new needed HVAC systems, more modern museum-quality lighting, desperately needed storage space, meeting room space, and more. Donations have declined with the downturn in the oil & gas economy and funding from the County has restrictions not permitting spending on capital improvements or the institutionís signature annual Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Journal publication.
Questions came up asking about what the building and fence around the site would look like? The company is flexible to make those look like what the historical society would like, including log siding to make the building look like an old cabin or a fort-like log palisade appearance to the fence. They have several options of tree type choices as well and can add Ďbranchesí to customize the fullness of the look of the tree to make sure it matches nearby vegetation as closely as possible.
Another question was asked whether or not the tower would need a flashing light at night or if its height would be a hazard to emergency helicopters flying in and out of the nearby medical clinic helipad. According to Warner, their contacts with the FAA indicate that no lighting at all would be needed for this tower. Lighting requirements begin at 200 foot tower height. Part of the permitting process with the FAA looks closely at nearby flight pathways for helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. Verizonís preliminary investigation indicates no conflicts or issues with helicopter emergency flights for the clinic. It was asked if it was possible the federal regulations could change and lights might be required added at a future time? Warner said the company complies with federal regulations at all times.
Someone else asked if there would be noise from the tower? Apparently nothing from the tower, but some sound would come from the air conditioning units which occasionally turn on and off to cool the equipment inside of the building. Others mentioned concerns as part of the NEPA process for wildlife, air, water, raptor roosting. Since the SCHS ground is private property, the NEPA analysis criteria arenít as strict as for public land.
A person questioned if there are health hazards from cell phone towers that might impact visitors or school children coming to the museum? Warner said there is no evidence of health concerns with cell towers. The company meets all federal regulations and is required by the FCC to put a sign on the outside of their site identifying it as a wireless facility.
The question was asked if the facility would interfere with future expansion plans the Museum has in mind. The proposed tower lease area is outside of the footprint for site plans of possible expansion additions.
Another person asked if any visual simulating had been done showing what the tree tower would look like from a distance from various views around Pinedale. Warner responded that they could create visuals showing these perspectives.
The company was asked about how many other locations they considered for placing the tower? Engineers determined that the best placement would be the Town of Pinedale ball fields, but that was later nixed due to possible northward expansion plans for the medical clinic. The optimum location for the cell tower is along the edge of the terrace on the east side of town, with the Museum grounds being a prime location. Four possible sites on the museum grounds were looked at, three of which were eliminated. The closer the tower can be to the edge of the bluff, the better coverage spread for the signal and the lower the needed tower height. It was asked if the tower on the west side of town could be improved to provide a greater signal, or if private landowners south of the Museum had been contacted about possibly placing the tower on their land? The answer was no to both questions. The west tower is at capacity and covers the spectrum from that end of town and the areas south of town were lower in elevation resulting in the need for a much taller tower. Another person asked about placing the tower in or near the cemetery. Warner said the company typically steers away from cemeteries because they usually get push back from communities.
Several people spoke out strongly against the proposal and called the mono-pine cell tower an "eyesore" and a "blight on the Museum grounds." One person asked if the SCHS had thought about how many members would drop out if the tower went in? Another said why would a landlord "sell their soul for $20,000/year?" Another said, "The presence of a high-tech facility on this piece of property goes against the ambiance and why this structure was built. The whole ambiance of the Museum of the Mountain Man would be violated by this intrusion." Museum Director Laurie Hartwig reiterated her objection to the tower, "As Director for the past 14 years, I am against this proposal. It is not what the SCHS is about. She suggested several ideas for fundraising.
Another person asked how many memberships would the money brought in from the cell tower represent? At their lowest $40 membership level, it would take at least 525 new members to make up the $21,000 annual tower lease rental. If faithful lower-level members would upgrade to higher level memberships, it would also help the historical society as a growing institution to have the operational money they need for ongoing maintenance, capital improvements, displays and educational programs. It was pointed out that donation levels were dropping along with the slowdown in the gas field. On the other hand, memberships are up and the institution is growing its endowment.
Several people spoke up in favor of the proposal. One person said she sees cell towers all around in her travels around the country and for the most part they blend into the surroundings and often people donít even realize they have a cell tower tree near them. Another person applauded Verizon for working to provide better signal service to the Town and most tourists from bigger cities are very used to seeing these towers and wonít care, "We need the service." Another said, "I feel it (the tree) is attractive. Every building on this skyline including the museum is Ďuglyí." Another person pointed out that improved cell signal service for the area might actually save a life in town or for someone in the wilderness who might get into trouble and use a cell phone to call for help.
Another person spoke up not about the actual tower, but about feeling SCHS members werenít given enough advance notice of the proposal or having more voice in the process. "This will have a profound impact on our town. As a member, I donít feel like Iíve been asked enough to be involved. We need more, not less information. We rebel when we feel decisions are being made behind our back." The membership was first publicly made aware of the proposal at the membership meeting in March, 2015 when members asked if the rumors about a cell tower proposal were true? At that time they were told yes, but that a detailed proposal hadnít been received from the company yet and once Verizon had given one, the public would be given an opportunity to provide comment at the public hearing at the Pinedale Planning & Zoning commission and at the Pinedale Town Council meeting for the permit request. The Board of Trustees didnít get the project details until earlier this month and this meeting was arranged shortly thereafter to let the membership know of the proposal. A long-time member strongly encouraged the historical society to make sure out-of-state members and big faithful donors were aware of this proposal and see what they think about it. Another person asked the historical society to strongly consider having more public meetings on the topic and to provide more information and answers to frequently asked questions on the Museum website.
Several Board members spoke up to say that people were welcome to contact them at any time to ask questions and find out more information. The cell tower proposal was on the table before many of the new board was seated this past spring, and it is the job of the Board of Trustees to seriously consider all possible funding options to secure the financial health of the institution.
At the end of the meeting, SCHS Board of Trustees President Thomas said they would review and take into consideration all the comments received at this meeting, put more information on the historical society website, respond to the concerns and questions raised at the meeting, and keep people informed.
The SCHS will host another community meeting at the Museum on Thursday, September 24th at 5:30PM to present more information and answers to questions that were raised in the earlier meeting. The SCHS encourages anyone who has questions to contact any board member or SCHS Executive Director Laurie Hartwig at the Museum. The final decision will be made in October.
Full disclosure: Dawn Ballou, Editor of Pinedale Online and author of this article, is a board member of the Sublette County Historical Society.