With its nearly decade-long process slow enough to make a tortoise blush and with enough twists and turns to confuse a maze builder, the quest for a new San Juan County's Wireless Facilities (PDF 392.2K) Ordinance proceeds with a continued public hearing before the county Council at 1 p.m. Monday, April 2, 2012 in the Legislative Building, 55 Second Street in Friday Harbor.
This is a continued public hearing from the February 27 and 28 public hearings which can be viewed online. Public testimony was closed with the right of the council to reopen.
This is most likely not the final public hearing.
The new ordinance, as written, allows facilities to be installed, which would enable service to be provided to more than 90 percent of the county. For years, citizens, law enforcement, emergency and safety agencies have advocated for better cell phone coverage.
The current ordinance is viewed by many as one of the most onerous and obstructive in the country.
During the 1990s when the first hearings were held for cell tower facilities, citizens gathered outside the courthouse holding anti-cell tower picket signs, some wearing protective aluminum foil headgear.
The hearing will be streamed http://sanjuanco.com/council/video.aspx#.
Using the streaming requires downloading Silverlight on older computers.
After being streamed the meetings remain online for three months.
Cell tower ordinance draft underway
A wireless telecommunications facility draft ordinance and public participation plan will be drafted for the cell tower task force by Allen Shayo before the end of the year. Revisions will be up to the committee as funding to have Shayo continue to work on the project, which is outside of his regular workload as a permit coordinator with the Community Development and Planning Department, was cut in the 2009 budget.
At their monthly board meeting December 10, 2008, the county Economic Development Council (SJCEDC) discussed offering funding to the CD&P to allow Shayo to continue to work with the task force.
The current county regulations for siting cell towers are considered "onerous" by the telecommunications industry. A sub-area plan was created for siting the towers.
The current regulations are part of the Comprehensive Plan and are being worked on as part of the docket for 2009. The draft ordinance would place the regulations in the Unified Development Code.
The task force, headed by Councilmember Rich Peterson, has been meeting regularly. When the county Council held a county council meeting on Lopez Island Dec. 1, several citizens expressed concern about the task force. They saw no need for a change to the regulations and they demanded the council make more of an effort to make people aware the task force was working to overturn the current regulations.
Councilmember Rich Peterson to chair cellphone task force
San Juan County Council has designated Rich Peterson as chair of an ad hoc task force to find ways to improve cell phone coverage within the County. In recent years law enforcement officials, emergency responders and individual citizens have increasingly expressed concerns about the lack of cell phone service in many areas of the County.
"This is an important safety issue, as well as a matter of convenience," Peterson said. "I would like to fill out this cell phone task force with four to six sharp people, preferably including some with a background in the communications industry. My hope is that this group will be able to work with cell phone providers to find a way to meet our communications needs while still being sensitive to the concerns of our residents who are concerned about the natural environment and the esthetics of the islands."
The current county code regulating cell phone towers is often cited as being so restrictive that it has discouraged providers from attempting to locate additional transmitters here. Peterson says that he believes the code will need to be revised, but that changing the code alone won't produce results. "We need to determine what cell phone providers really want and need before we do anything," he said.
Peterson encourages anyone with an interest in working on the task force to contact the San Juan County Council office by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (360) 378-2898 (ask for Maureen See).
Cellphone tower ordinance to be reconsidered
Roger Crosby of Orcas Island urged the county Board of Commissioners to work to improve cell phone coverage in San Juan County. He told them the "dead zones" are a safety concern for fire, EMS, school bus drivers, deputies, OPALCO and road crews.
Crosby has suggested the county adopt a new ordinance which would allow cell towers or antennaes in more areas.
The county's current ordinance was adopted in 1997 after contentious public hearings. The county commissioners agreed to hold a workshop on the issue with an eye toward revising the existing ordinance.
Evans: county needs improved cell phone coverage
San Juan County is "on a dead end siding on the information highway." County Commissioner John Evans suggested a Communications and Technology Initiative during the June 8, 2004 Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting.
He proposed a communications technology advisory committee be formed with a goal of developing a staged county-wide implementation to make voice, video and data capabilities, full cellular phone coverage and high speed Internet access available throughout the county. The BOCC should invite representatives from phone companies, OPALCO, internet service providers and other interested groups to a worksession to discuss the issue.Cell phone technology has changed significantly since the county adopted its cell phone siting rules, he said.
Commissioner Rhea Miller said the problem is not with the county's rules but with the cell phone companies. "Cellular antennaes are easy to install in San Juan County," she said. "The reason the companies don't find it worth their expense due to the small population." In the past, companies have wanted to install large cell towers in the county to serve the I-5 corridor, she said. "It becomes an enormous property rights and esthetics issue," she said.
Commissioner Darcie Nielsen noted the controversial hearings that took place when the county drafted the current rules. She suggested the county's Economic Development Council would be the proper agency to deal with the technology issues. She said, EDC Director Richard Civille has held a series of brown bag broadband meetings over the past few years to discuss communications infrastructure.
Civille said Evans idea was intriguing. He said the on again off again brown bag meetings had evolved into larger meetings such as the upcoming meeting at Rosario Resort on June 25, 2004.
Miller said the county's priority is to finish the Growth Management work and that the cell phone issue could wait until that work was completed.
Evans said law enforcement agencies, emergency workers, and businesses need improved cell coverage. The county's role would be making changes, if necessary, to the regulations. He plans to move ahead with the meeting.