Cellular telephone towers may be the next point of controversy in the Bitterroot Valley. No one is sure how many of the tall structures there are providing cellular phone service to ‘Root residents, but one thing is for sure: That number is about to increase substantially. Applications for street addresses are pending in the Ravalli County Land Services Office for five towers and, according to Ravalli County Senior Planner Bill Armold, another six towers may be under consideration.
The applications are filed with the county because US West requires an address for each tower, which the Land Services Office provides for a $12.50 fee. The five new towers are being built at Bull Run on the Eastside Highway near Florence; at the Stevensville Wye on the northeast side of U.S. Highway 93; at Ridge Road east of Stevensville; at Woodside on the east side of U.S. Highway 93, and in Hamilton near the Foxfield development. Tetragenics, a Butte telecommunications company, is building the towers. All existing towers have been built on private land.
There are no regulations on cell towers in Ravalli County at this time. None of the county’s voluntary zones address cellular phone towers, and Ravalli County does not have any existing growth plan or policy. As a result, towers can be as tall as are needed to provide a clear signal. The proposed towers in the Bitterroot will be 150 feet tall.
Federal law states that local governments may regulate cellular tower construction but may not deny construction of them altogether. So in response to the recent preponderance of cell phone beacons, Armold—who developed regulations for similar towers in Yellowstone County, Mont., and Clatsop County, Ore.—is now writing regs for Ravalli County. A draft should be ready to present to the county commissioners within two weeks, he says. Among the requirements he is considering are designated separations from residential neighborhoods and between towers, as well as a 150 percent “fall zone” around each tower in the event that it topples.
In Oregon, by contrast, towers must be “disguised” to fit into their surroundings, with builders sometimes masking them as clock towers and trees. But even that has not proved satisfactory to some people. Property owners who sign leases with cell tower companies have found themselves ostracized by neighbors, and in one recent case, have been shot at in their home.