OURAY BRIEFS | Hello ‘Franken-Tree,’ Goodbye Dead Zone

06/01/14 | By | More

OURAY COUNTY – The notorious “dead zone” in the Billy Creek area along US Hwy. 550 between Ridgway and Montrose will soon enjoy full cell-phone coverage, thanks to a new cell-phone tower that AT&T intends to build on private leased land in the area in the near future.

The Ouray County Commissioners granted a special-use permit for the project after a public hearing on Tuesday this week. AT&T proposes to build a 100-foot tall cell phone tower disguised as a faux pine tree – what one commissioner in a neighboring county jokingly referred to as a “Franken-Tree.’

The new tower will be built 1.7 miles north of Ridgway State Park’s Pa-Co-Chu-Puk area, on the west side of the highway, on a leased 50’ by 50’ parcel of private ranch land located at 31557 Highway 550.

Per Ouray County land use code, wireless facilities such as the proposed tower fall under the definition of a “Public Utility,” a use allowed by Special Use Permit in the county’s Valley Zone.

During a presentation on the project, Ouray County Land Use Administrator Mark Castrodale told the commissioners that although the project does fall within one of the county’s visual impact corridors, there are no height restrictions in the Valley Zone, and the county’s visual impact regulations provide an exemption for wind and communications towers.

However, the BOCC has instructed the Land Use Department to apply the “spirit and intent” of Section 9 when addressing applications for new towers.

Thus, the faux pine. The structure will look as much like a giant pine tree as a 100-foot-tall communications tower bristling with 12 panel antennae feasibly can. Hadley said that monopine structures have enjoyed vast aesthetic improvements in recent years and, but for their towering size, could easily pass for real trees. They even have “faux bark.”

A “PhotoSim” of the monopine tower in its proposed location showed how much better it would blend in with its surroundings compared to an undisguised tower.

The Ouray County Planning Commission has chewed over the project and unanimously recommended its approval to the BOCC, on the condition that the location of the tower be as represented in AT&T’s plans.

Castrodale also pointed out that the project aligns with the Ouray County Master Plan, which stresses the need to “recognize the timely development of utility facilities and the need for careful planning to minimize the impacts associated with utility facility siting and design.”

While in the past, other cell phone towers in the county have become lightning rods of controversy, the proposed new monopine did not arouse the ire of any of its future neighbors.

Indeed, Walt and Mary Swetkoff of nearby Spud Hill attended Tuesday’s public hearing to voice their support for the project, and the prospect of finally having cell phone coverage at their home, as did their neighbor, Mike McNeil.

“Faux pines are ugly as hell, and they are going to stick out, but it’s the best choice for this area,” McNeil said.

Former Ouray County Commissioner and Emergency Manager Alan Staehle emphasized the public safety aspect of the tower. “It really is a public safety issue to be able to report an emergency,” he said.

Castrodale said that in recent years, the county has had eight to ten calls from telecom providers looking to address the no-coverage area along that stretch of highway, but that attempts to gain leases have not been successful in the past. “It’s an area all providers struggle with,” he said.

Hadley added that the tower will be “built to be co-locatable,” meaning that other telecom companies can lease space on the monopine.

Per the county’s current land use regs, the special-use permit that the commissioners granted for the tower will expire in two years. But, Castrodale said, the county is working to amend the code to allow such permits to last for a longer time. AT&T’s lease on the private parcel on which the tower will be built is for 25 years, Hadley said.

Commission Chair Lyn Padgett praised AT&T for its thorough application and willingness to work within the parameters of the county’s process. “I am excited to see this become a good example of a needed service in our county while working within the land use code,” she said.

GUNN TIRE CONTRACT INKED

Commissioners on Tuesday approved the board chair’s signature on all contracts pertaining to the pending Gunn tire cleanup, with a condition that there be no expenditure of county funds on the cleanup project.

Using grant money from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, the county will pay subcontractor Ridgeway Valley Enterprises of Montrose $350,000 to remove tires that remain on Butch Gunn’s property, where over  tons of them were illegally dumped in a ravine over a period of years, and perform reclamation work on the land.

Under the terms of the contract the subcontractor will excavate, clean, grind/shred and haul the waste tires to a “final registered destination” from the site – the Montrose County Landfill. The tires must all be removed no later than Oct. 31, 2014.

swright@watchnewspapers.com or Tweet @iamsamwright

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