MARCH 31, 1997

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Local News

Ring Hill tower proposal raises ire of neighbors

communications tower by Andrew Walgamott
More than 100 neighbors of a proposed 300-foot communications tower, to be situated on King County property north of the Saybrook development, met with county officials last Wednesday night at East Ridge Elementary. Voicing concerns about health and property values, the residents also wanted to find out how to stop the project.
   At the meeting, Kevin Kearns, project manager for the King County Department of Emergency Management, outlined the tower proposal and answered questions. The county wants to build a three-sided, guy-wire supported 300-foot-tall steel tower. Two microwave dishes, six and eight feet in diameter, would be installed at the 140 and 180 foot levels. Five omni-directional antennas would also be installed above 275 feet. A concrete structure housing electronics gear and a generator would be built at the base of the tower. A chain-link fence, approximately 73 feet by 73 feet, would surround the facility. Landscaping would also screen the tower from the Saybrook community.
   The county plans to build the tower, which would be part of a county-wide 800 mega-hertz trunked radio system, in the middle of a 75.59 acre county-owned site on Ring Hill that was formally used as a landfill.
   Kearns said the project was being undertaken because public safety agencies in King County, such as fire, aid, police, and emergency units, lacked compatible 2-way communications gear. Messages from one part of the county to another are delayed as they are relayed through different dispatchers. As part of a plan to update the system countywide, King County was looking to link existing and additional tower sites that could broadcast across the area and overlap each other in radio coverage, called redundancy, to protect against one or more towers failing in an emergency.
   Thirteen existing towers and six proposed towers are included in the network, according to a map presented at the meeting. When the project is finished, Kearns said that all agencies will be able to communicate on the same band. Kearns said the county had been seeking a site in the northern part of the county capable of broadcasting and receiving west towards Woodinville, east into Duvall, and south down the Snoqualmie Valley as early as 1993.
   Ring Hill was chosen from six or seven other alternatives in northern King County and in the south Snohomish County area for its "coverage footprint," according to Kearns. He said that without the Ring Hill tower site, two additional sites would be needed to get the same coverage. He said elevated sites and tall towers are necessary to get radio penetration into narrow valleys. A white strobe light and flashing red light would be mounted on the tower in compliance with FAA regulations. The lights would be directed outward and upward by parabolic reflectors and not aimed groundward, Kearns said.
   According to his estimates, each tower will cost between $1.3 and $1.4 million to build. The tower and building alone cost would $450,000 and equipment costs are estimated at $850,000. He said that for economic reasons, King County ownership of the old landfill site factored into the decision to build there as well because the large site allowed for the centering of the tower away from homes. Money for the tower project would come from a 3-year special levy for public safety infrastructure projects, according to Kearns. He also said that it was possible space on the tower would be leased out to other communications companies in the future.
   The citizens gathered at East Ridge voiced their concerns about the tower including health factors, its closeness to both Eastridge Elementary and the new Timbercrest Junior High, the danger of building it on a fault line and the effects on property value.
   Kearns explained that the county would be using low frequencies and wouldn't allow higher energy AM, FM, or TV equipment, and that the tower base would be built on "competent soils" lessening the danger from earthquakes.
   Community member, Lanney Michael noted that the residents of Saybrook pay a million dollars in property tax a year and said the county had "no regard for the intrusiveness of this [tower] in the neighborhood."
   Stephen Glass, a resident of Saybrook since Aug. 1996 ("And here to stay!"), said of the county developing a tower on their own property, "Your economic savings is our economic detriment."
   Greg Elliot, a five-year resident of Saybrook, thought it was inevitable that the tower project would go through. Speaking to Kearns and the audience, Elliot said, "It's obvious you're going to go ahead with it. How about we try to get something out of it?" He suggested a park on the county site.
   Though the matter won't come before the King County Council, representatives from Ron Sims' and Louise Miller's office were on hand to report on public sentiment. Many in the audience wished to know how to stop the application. Comments may be sent to: DDES, Land Use Services Division, 3600 136th Pl. SE, Bellevue, WA 98006-1400.
   According to King County Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) documents, comments on the proposed tower are due by Apr. 8, after which DDES would issue a decision on the project application. Angelica Velasquez, an environmental planner at DDES, said staff is preparing a report on conditions that need to be addressed before a permit is granted. Simultanueously, a threshhold determination is being prepared pursuant to State Environmental Policy Act because this project is not catergorically exempt, Velasquez said.
   Appeals of the DDES decision should be filed with the DDES. After the appeal has been filed, the appellant has 21 days to file a statement with the DDES. The appeal should identify the decision being apealled and the errors in the decision. The appeal should state reasons why the decision should be reversed or modified, according to DDES documents. The hearing examiner's decisions are appealable to King County Superior Court.