Steamboat Springs Cutting-edge 4G LTE cellular service could be in place in parts of Routt County by the end of the year.
AT&T/New Cingular Wireless is in the process of gaining approval for nine new cell towers in the area. Conditional use permits for three of the 100-foot towers were approved by the Routt County Planning Commission last week. Three more will come before the commission next month.
Steamboat Springs attorney Cari Hermacinski, who is acting as an agent for AT&T, said the wireless service provider hopes to have six of the towers completed before the end of the year. Until permits are approved for the seventh and eighth sites, AT&T might seek permission to use temporary cell towers called COWs (cell on wheels) to create a local network robust enough to launch 4G LTE service. A ninth tower would be on national forest land, Hermacinski said.
4G LTE service offers data download and upload speeds significantly faster than existing 3G networks.
The Planning Commission tabled a vote on a conditional use permit last week for a fourth tower that would be just northwest of Yampa after hearing strong local opposition about the proposed tower’s location. The Planning Commission received a letter from Yampa Mayor Tom Yackey reporting that his Town Board was unanimous in opposition to the tower proposed for a site just off Routt County Road 17.
“Perhaps even more crucial than protecting the views of the Flat Tops from (Colorado) Highway 131 is protecting the view of the Flat Tops from Routt County Road 17, the Flat Tops Scenic and Historic Byway,” Yackey wrote.
Hermacinski said it’s likely that when the Yampa tower returns to the Planning Commission in early October, it will be proposed for a new location.
“We heard the neighbors,” Hermacinski acknowledged. “The chances we’ll stick with the originally proposed site are slim. We’re looking for something else out of sensitivity to the scenic byway and neighborhood opposition.”
AT&T is the consumer brand by which the cell service provider is known, and New Cingular Wireless is the business entity that will hold the cellphone tower permits with the federal government.
Hermacinski, who also is a Steamboat Springs City Council member, emphasized that the new cellphone towers ultimately will be of benefit to more than just AT&T customers because different cell service providers commonly share towers to save money and condense the impact of infrastructure on the landscape. The practice of different companies sharing towers is known in the industry as "co-locating."
County Planning Director Chad Phillips said Monday that he’s concerned the 100-foot towers topped with their triangular arrays of antennae do not fit Routt County master plan goals.
“The foundation of the master plan is to preserve the Western rural character of Routt County,” Phillips said.
Last week’s approvals by the Planning Commission will stand, and the three approved permits would not move on to the Routt County Board of Commissioners unless its members choose this week to call them up for another round of hearings, Phillips said.
The 100-foot monopole cell towers that were approved Thursday include one just west of Steamboat at the Steamboat Springs wastewater treatment plant off C.R. 33. The Steamboat City Council already has signed off on a lease agreement with New Cingular Wireless that would pay the city $1,000 per month for use of the site.
A second tower has been approved farther west on private land north of U.S. Highway 40 and west of Milner.
The third is on private land south of Oak Creek roughly between the southern edge of the commercial district and Soroco High School on the west side of Colo. 131.
Each of the cell sites would include an unstaffed equipment shelter.
County regulations limit the maximum height of cell towers to 100 feet. Hermacinski said the county doesn’t allow height variances for the towers. Moffat County recently approved taller 150-foot towers, which Hermacinski said help expand the reach of the cell network.
Hermacinski also said that a hearing with the Planning Commission for a tower site near Toponas has been scheduled for Sept. 6. A hearing for the site near Hayden will follow Sept. 20. Hermacinski also is working on a site at the entrance to the canyon near Mount Harris on U.S. 40. Yet another tower is being planned near the intersection of U.S. 40 and Colo. 131 south of Steamboat. Finally, AT&T will seek to co-locate on an existing Verizon Wireless tower on South Walton Peak on the Routt National Forest.
Hermacinski said AT&T’s strategy is to locate the new towers near population centers and along major transportation routes.
“That’s exactly where we need to be,” Hermacinski said. She also is working on tower sites on Colo. 13, which runs from Rifle north through Craig to Baggs, Wyo.
Northwest Colorado’s mountainous terrain limits the suitable sites for cellphone towers, Hermacinski said. AT&T has built cellphone towers to resemble pine trees and palm trees in other locations, but the pine tree tower would look out of place along the stretches of Colo. 131 and U.S. 40, where towers are needed but forested stands are few, she added.
She said that community leaders including emergency service officials have written more than 20 letters of support for the new AT&T towers.
Finally, Hermacinski said, the Routt County Economic Strategic Development Plan acknowledges that the lack of countywide cell service represents an obstacle to businesses that increasingly rely on telecommunications.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com