Another Voice: Finding ‘Best of All Worlds’ in the area of cell tower permit requests

Who doesn’t want their cell phone to have a strong signal, with lots of bars?

But who wants to look at the breathtaking vista from the Hood River Valley High School bleachers — whether at graduation or a game — and see a 100-foot-tall cell tower disguised as a giant fake fir tree?

My family’s personal code is: “To those whom much has been given, much is expected.” When our family-wage jobs allowed us to purchase land south of the high school almost 30 years ago, we fully understood that this beauty coexisted with farms and orchards in Hood River County. We learned to embrace the 4 a.m. fans, as well as the generator noise from Diamond Fruit’s cold storage. All these uses pre-existed us and we respected that.

Whenever asked by others to use our property, we happily agreed and welcomed the high school cross country course, community mountain bike competitions, and even the Hood River horse show. Along with community partners, we facilitated memories for thousands of Hood River kids with 20 years of Camp St. Mary’s (five-day overnight summer camp for low income kids) in hopes that local teens would be inspired to give of themselves in service to others.

Now a new use is proposed — a Verizon cell tower for the property that adjoins ours, that will loom over our property, the high school fields, and the Golden Eagle Park, which is currently undergoing close to $1 million worth of improvements.

Last year, our county commissioners grappled with this balance between modern technology and the natural beauty that is the unique and irreplaceable asset we have here in Hood River. We now have a comprehensive cell tower ordinance. Recently, AT&T received permission to build a 104-foot-tall cell tower immediately west of Idlewilde Cemetery. AT&T is required to allow co-location by other cell providers on that tower as an express condition of approval.

Verizon doesn’t claim that the need for the cell tower justifies its application; instead it claims that the parcel (now owned by Double Mountain) expressly permits cell tower use — which is news to us because we have always known that we bought our property in a farming and orchard area, but not a cell-tower area.

The state-wide Land Use Board of Appeals had to tell Verizon that it couldn’t shoe-horn itself into the word “utility” by simply claiming it was one, and has instructed our commissioners that the only way they can allow the Verizon cell tower is if it is proven that its cell tower is a utility that is either a “distribution plant and substation” or “a service yard.” The state told Verizon that with the greater departure from present land use patterns, the greater the burden (of Verizon) to prove that property values won’t be affected by this tower, and that the public need for healthful, safe and aesthetic surroundings and conditions won’t be affected. If held to these rules, Verizon would have to be told “no — go co-locate with AT&T.”

I am grateful that the “politics” of the preservation of the values of our county is purely “local.” I have learned about local politics in action as I have fought Verizon’s single-minded obsession with this one parcel whose zoning is a far cry from “cell tower.”

I have asked myself, “Why would our commissioners take on this job which requires immense research for many items that come to their attention?” I’m certain they and their families sat around their kitchen tables when considering taking on this responsibility, deciding that they could make a difference in people’s lives and preserve the immense beauty we have in this unique county. Through these last years of this struggle, the county representatives and staff planner have treated us with utmost respect and prompt, thorough assistance. I am grateful that our commissioners have sworn to uphold the priceless resources of Hood River County.

To those whom much has been given, much is expected.

Becky Rawson lives adjacent to the proposed site, on Barrett Drive.

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