A cell and repeater tower that was blown down by strong winds east of Willow late last month has brought the issue of tall tower regulations to the forefront in the Mat-Su Valley.
The Borough currently has an advisory committee looking into what requirements should be put on companies that wish to build cell and broadcast towers.
Alex Strawn with the Planning Division of the Borough says that the tower fell at a very interesting time, since the next meeting of the Tall Tower Advisory Committee will be focused solely on whether to require a setback radius around new towers. Rick Brenden is part of the committee, and says that the past failure of ordinances in the Borough Assembly led to a situation where there were virtually no restrictions.
“They went eight to ten months without anything. Tower–cell companies in particular were not regulated, so towers sprung up like weeds all over the place, which awakened people to that issue. It got on the Borough Assembly, and they started to make some rules, but setbacks were omitted deliberately and have been kept omitted. It’s starting to anger people.”
Rick Brenden says that sort of unregulated construction can pose a safety risk. He has found over three hundred photos of towers that have fallen “long and flat,” despite the argument that the towers rarely fail, and tend to collapse around their own base when they do. He says this incident lends further weight to his push for having regulations requiring new towers to be built so they cannot fall on adjacent structures or property.
Jim Sykes, newly seated Borough Assembly Member for District 1, agrees that this incident illustrates what can potentially happen with a tall tower.
“There has been lots of talk about, ‘These things almost never fail, they almost never fall, and if they do fall, they collapse on themselves, and they’re very rarely a problem outside of just a few feet of where the tower stands.’ This shows that, not only did the tower fall as a single piece and did not collapse on itself, but it used up the full radius of the height of the tower.”
Jim Sykes has been involved with radio towers for many years, including the extension of the tower that broadcasts KTNA’s signal. He says that he is not a proponent of excessive regulation, but that he is a “safety guy.”
“When we have man-made structures of this sort, which sometimes to fail–they don’t do it that often–but when we have an opportunity to look at safety and take a look at the height of the tower and where it could fall if it ever fell–and hopefully it never does–but if it ever fell, we can control where we put it.”
Jim Sykes says that it is often possible for cell phone carriers and communities to work together in order to find a location for new towers that is acceptable to everyone. As an example, he cites the Lazy Mountain area where he lives, where the community and the builder came to an agreement that was almost universally amenable.
While it will likely mean more attention for the issue, neither Rick Brenden or Jim Sykes were able to say if the fallen tower near Willow will make it easier to get a setback requirement approved. The advisory committee will likely meet early next month to discuss the issue.