By Lyndsie Ferrell
CREEDE— Property owners gathered at the Bulldog Mine in Creede on Monday, Aug. 6 to hear about the proposed cell towers that may be placed along the Highway 149 corridor by Viaero Wireless.
A public hearing was held in early June by the Mineral County Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) to discuss two conditional use applications submitted by Viaero Wireless to Mineral County. During a second meeting of P&Z held July 16, public comment was again collected and taken into consideration before the commission made a recommendation to the Mineral County Board of Commissioners.
The commissioners opened the public hearing on Monday to consider the conditional use applications and hear further comments from property owners that would be directly affected by the tower placement. County Administrator Janelle Kukuk explained that the proposed cell tower project came about due to conversations that were held after the 2013 West Fork Complex Fire. “We started having this conversation after the 2013 fires, recognizing the need to have communications enhanced in the canyon leading up to Creede for, not just the first responders, but everyone that needed to check in with family,” said Kukuk.
Viaero Wireless has been working to get a communication corridor in place in the last few years since the fire. “The main purpose of this project is to enhance communications in the canyon for first responders in case of another fire or similar emergency. Once the towers are in place we can offer things like installing cameras to help in emergencies and more,” said Viaero Wireless consultant and project coordinator John Becker.
Becker explained that the proposed towers would be located on railroad right-of-ways in the Big River and Wagon Wheel Gap areas. Each tower would have to be between 65 to 90 feet in height and could potentially be what is called a mono-pine design to help camouflage the towers. “We have to consider more height if we use the tree design in order to fit three to four carriers on the tower,” explained Becker.
The main concern for property owners is that they would have to look at the devices, and they would potentially drop the property values.
Becker explained that the site designs for the towers were completed a year ago and that the company is ready to move forward if they can get approval from both property owners and commissioners. “We want to do this in a way that is the least objectionable to the property owners. We will do whatever is necessary to make you happy. We can’t make you completely happy, but our goal is to make you as happy with the project as possible,” said Becker.
Commissioner Scott Lamb read the recommendation that came from P&Z, stating that the board recommends approval of the towers with conditions. These conditions included an effort by Viaero Wireless to vet alternative sites, that the latest camouflage technology be used and that P&Z has a part in the final approval of the tower design. Lamb was concerned about the last condition, wondering if there is a mechanism in the county process for that to happen.
After some consideration, County Attorney Randy Nicholson stated that the board could opt to continue the public hearing to a later date, until a time when more details could be worked out.
Becker also stated that he would return to his engineers to get more specific information on the types of towers that would fit the property owners’ wishes and all parties agreed to meet again during the next regular meeting on Sept. 4. No decisions were made, and the hearing was tabled until September.