In a unanimous vote, the Madera County Board of Supervisors has given the green light to the new Verizon cell phone tower in the Cascadel area above North Fork.
The Board voted 4-0 to approve the re-zoning application and conditional use permit to allow the project to proceed. Supervisor Frank Bigelow (whose family owns Ponderosa Telephone Co.) absented himself from the discussion and vote.
Mark Lobaugh of Complete Wireless Consulting, and speaking on behalf of Verizon Wireless, addressed the various challenges in selecting a site for the tower, and the plans to minimize the visual impact of the site for residents of the Cascadel area. (Read his complete presentation at the end of the article.)
Seven North Fork area residents spoke in support of the project, most of them residents of the Cascadel area. No one spoke in opposition.
Sandy Chaille, resident of Cascadel Heights, was first up to the mic for public comments on the project. She first let the Board know that even though they were abiding by the letter of the law in informing the adjacent few property owners, it would have been greatly appreciated if all the residents of the area had been notified concerning something that turned into quite a contentious issue.
Chaille also stated, “If we ever want new businesses to come to North Fork we’d better have cell access. Outages of telephone services are not unusual and that leaves only cell phones for emergencies.”
Diann Miller, Station Captain for the North Fork Volunteer Fire Department, said that she was addressing the Board as a private citizen. She has, however, checked out the site from the perspective of fire safety. She reports that the site is very fire safe, with 3 fire breaks in place, and a complete fire break around the perimeter of the property.
“The Forest Service will also do clearing of the area to remove brush,” said Miller. “I spoke with one of the neighbors, and we looked from the house to see what they would see. The owner told me that the tower was less intrusive than his little red barn and the motor home that they see everyday.”
Miller also stated that their fire department radios even have a hard time getting a signal, and cell service would improve their ability to find people in an emergency.
Mark Stamas, who lives about a half-mile east of the location, also voiced his strong support, along with Wayne Shores, Brian Curtis, and life-long North Fork resident Jon Norby.
Marie Iden lives just .2 miles from the tower site on Cascasdel Heights. She pointed out to the Board, “The Telecommunications Act of 1996 says that this cannot be denied because of potential rf radiation concerns, once it meets FCC requirements.”
Iden goes on to say, “There also is the Shot Clock ruling, FCC 09-99, on 11-18-2009, stating that there is a time limit from the time the application is filed until you are required to approve it, or the company can immediately appeal that in federal court. That is something I don’t want to see us spending a lot of money on.
“I’m probably going to see it from my deck. But every day, I see that great big 25 foot square concrete box with concertina wire that brings in our internet. I love seeing that ugly thing when I drive home. It’s beautiful to me; I make my living on the internet. Can we all just agree that this tower will save lives?”
Scott Marsh, owner of Slims Koffee Shak in North Fork, and president of the Chamber of Commerce, shared his thoughts on the project. “I’m not an economist, but I know that a couple of the foundations to building an economy are transportation and communication. As a small business owner, we sure would appreciate a leg up in the communication department.”
Sheriff John Anderson also voiced his support, stating that cell service in the area is critical for his deputies in the performance of their duties.
“When that fire broke out back in 2001, we had to go door to door to get people evacuated. Aesthetics should take a back seat to public safety.”
Anderson also brought up the issue of reverse 911. “I’m going to estimate that most people under 30 don’t have landline phones anymore. With reverse 911 we can call, say, 500 homes at once if we need to, but we’re missing a lot of people because we don’t have contact with cellular. We can’t contact people in case of an emergency.”
Due to the sketchy radio service in the mountain area, Anderson says that his Deputy Sheriffs don’t use sheriff’s radios, they use cell phones. “I urge a yes vote.”
The board was in agreement that the aesthetics of the tower should be a priority, respecting the concerns of residents in the area. Tom Wheeler made the motion to approve, stipulating that the tower be consistent with the mono-pine type (that looks like a tree), complete with green slats in the chainlink fence surrounding the installation, and landscaping.
Check back for updates and a timeline for completion of the project.
Complete text of presentation by Mark Lobaugh
Mark Lobaugh of Complete Wireless Consulting, here on behalf of Verizon Wireless.
The greater North Fork area and Madera County have suffered from poor cellular coverage for some time. Residents complain frequently about dropped calls and the inability to obtain signals so that a call can be made.
I’ve personally heard many stories from local residents regarding the need to drive some distance in order to get an adequate signal required to place a call. To correct this deficiency, we began feasibility research for a suitable candidate to construct this wireless facility. Topographical challenges due to mountainous terrain made the identification of suitable candidates challenging, but eventually resulted in the current site being chosen, for its unique characteristics including the fall line.
Number one is the suitability of the site to provide adequate coverage to the desired coverage area, construction suitability of the site, including adequate space for ground equipment, adequate screening and access to power, suitable zoning to accommodate the intended wireless use, and the ability to come to terms with the landlord on terms for lease.
The project has been designed to minimize the visual impact of the site by positioning the tower some 750 feet from road 233. It as been positioned with in a group of large pine trees, and is currently designed to be painted green so that it will blend in with the foliage. We currently do not have a Mono- Pine planned for the site, although we are open to suggestions.
Approximately 3,000 residents live in the greater North Fork area. The proposed network upgrade will enhance coverage and capacity to subscribers and insure that present and future voice and data users are able to utilize their communication devices to their fullest extent.
In addition, this upgrade will provide valuable backup to traditional landline service in the event of power outages or natural disasters. I’m told that many of the county’s emergency responders such as police and fire also utilize Verizon cellular service, and will stand to benefit from this system upgrade.
Numerous letters of support have been sent to the Board of Supervisors, including the following:
- North Fork Chamber
- Madera County Fire Department
- Eastern Madera County Fire Safety Council
- US Forest Service
In addition, a large number of support letters from local residents in the Cascadel and North Fork area have been sent to the Board of Supervisors expressing their strong desire for this project to be approved in order to make this sorely needed upgrade.
The proposed project will clearly result in improving the lives of residents in the North Fork area by providing access to a service that is enjoyed and expected by residents, travelers, merchants and emergency personnel who service this community.
In conclusion, I would like to request that the Board of Supervisors accept the original recommendation and approve re-zone application and conditional use permit.