Opponents of a plan to build a 160-foot microwave tower in a Homer neighborhood took their argument before the City of Homer’s Board of Adjustment Tuesday night. The board has yet to make a decision whether to grant a permit for the tower’s construction.
The company applying for the permit is Anchorage-based Kodiak Microwave System. In its application to the city, the company says the 160-foot tower would be located on a five-acre lot in the Eker Estates subdivision, near the top of East Hill Road along Skyline Drive.
The purpose of the tower is to provide broadband internet services to the communities of Port Graham, Nanwalek, Halibut Cove and Nikolaevsk, as well as residents out East End Road. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has requested the tower as a way to provide better internet service to schools in Nanwalek and Port Graham and the Port Graham Village Council has said the tower would greatly improve business and education in that community.
Kevin Dee is the executive director of AGEYA Camp, a wilderness camp for Alaska Native youth that operates in the summertime. Dee has been a vocal opponent of the tower project but he testified before the Board of Adjustment Tuesday that he supports its purpose, if not its execution.
"We do like this project," said Dee. "But we do not want it to happen unless it's absolutely necessary to harm the neighbors in this location."
Dee says the AGEYA camp, as well as many other properties located near the tower site, would be negatively affected. He compared the 160-foot tower to building a 16-story building on the Homer bluff. He also wondered if Kodiak Microwave might someday sell its space on the tower to other entities.
Dee said he would like the City of Homer to place a temporary 90-day moratorium on tower construction until more is known about how they affect property owners.
Christopher Slottee is and Anchorage attorney representing Kodiak Microwave System. He said the site was chosen not at random but for the specific purpose of serving as many remote communities as possible.
"They did a study (and) tried to figure out where to put a tower in the Homer area that will allow us to serve the most communities that we can," said Slottee. "And they determined that this parcel ... allows them to provide access to Nanwalek, Port Graham and these other communities."
Slottee said 160 feet is the lowest possible height for the tower to accomplish its goal. He refuted many of the other points brought up by neighbors opposed to the plan – that the microwave tower could gave negative health effects for nearby residents, that it could negatively affect the local watershed and that it might someday be cluttered up with many antennae and other apparatus.
In a December 4th report, the city planning department recommended that the planning commission approve the plan for the microwave tower, which it did, unanimously.
Some of the neighbors have retained Homer attorney Lindsey Wolter to represent them. In a cease-and-desist letter sent to Kodiak Microwave in December, Wolter said the proposed tower violates conditions of a 1990 covenant for the Eker Estates subdivision where it would be built.
The covenant states that, within the subdivision, “no lot shall be used except for residential purposes.” It also expressly forbids buildings more than two stories in height and satellite installations that detract from the view.
City Planning Technician Julie Engebretsen told the Board of Adjustment that the covenant issue is a “private legal matter,” over which the city has no consideration.
After the public portion of Tuesday’s meeting the Board of Adjustment, which is made up of members of the Homer City Council, met in executive session for about a half an hour. Homer Mayor Beth Wythe said the board will continue to deliberate the issue until it reaches a decision. Its written decision, she said will be published “at a later date.”
In the meantime, Kevin Dee has put on online petition on the website change.org, calling on the company to move its proposed tower somewhere else. As of Thursday, the petition had 51 signatures.