County looks at cell tower proposal in the Ruby Valley

The Madison County Planning Board and county commissioners will be soon looking over a proposal to build a new cell tower in the Ruby Valley.

The tower is being proposed by AT&T, which is working to improve their phone and data service in southwest Montana, said spokesman Kerry Hibbs.

The proposal is to build a 187-foot tower in the Silver Springs area near Sheridan. In the proposal AT&T would lease a chunk of land from Silver Springs Ranch for the location of the tower.

“That site was selected because it offers the best opportunity to provide wireless coverage, not only to the town of Sheridan but to as much of Ruby Valley as possible,” Hibbs said.

However, the location of the tower could compromise the scenic resources of the area, said Michael Pearce, who lives on Silver Springs Road near the proposed tower site.

“I don’t think people are really aware of what’s happening here,” Pearce said. “It’s trashing one of our best scenic resources that we have in our valley.”

Pearce is concerned that the tower could also devalue real estate in the area.

“I think this is an important enough issue for the valley that people should be aware of it,” he said.

All towers over 100 feet must get a county permit before they’re constructed, said Leona Stredwick, Madison County Planning Technician.

AT&T’s proposal is a little unique in that it also has to go through the subdivision process because of the lot they are planning to lease from Silver Springs Ranch, Stredwick said.

“All the land is owned by Silver Springs Ranch and AT&T is going to be leasing a particular square footage of the land,” she said.

The lot will be 190-feet by 190-feet in size, Stredwick said.

So the tower permitting process, in this case, actually has two components – a lease lot subdivision and a tower permit, she said.

Ultimately, the county commissioners will make the final decision on both parts of the project, Stredwick said.

However, the planning board will talk about the project at their regular meeting Nov. 29 at 6 p.m. at the Madison County Courthouse in Virginia City.

The commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposed tower Dec. 14 at 10 a.m. in their regular meeting room in Virginia City.

AT&T is asking for a variance from the county’s regulation that towers must be setback 120 percent of the tower’s height from the lot line, Stredwick said.

With the lot being only 190-feet square and the tower being 187-feet tall, this would be impossible, hence the variance request.

This setback ordinance is to ensure safety should the tower tip over, she said.

However, construction techniques for towers have improved over the past several years so that towers now don’t fall over, but rather collapse, said Nick Constantine, with Tower Engineering Professionals in Colorado, which is the firm designing the tower for AT&T.

The main danger for tall towers is wind and now in a damaging wind, towers are designed to collapse on themselves, Constantine said. Therefore, the lot setback restriction isn’t necessary.

Pearce also believes the county needs to consider building the new cell tower near an existing tower.

The County’s own guidelines call for towers to be built in the same area, he said.

“It’s not apparent or evident that they’ve made any real evaluation of the existing tower site,” Pearce said.

And he also questions whether a new cell tower is even necessary.

“I have AT&T and I get excellent cell service from my home on Silver Springs Road,” Pearce said.

For more information on the tower permit, call the Madison County Planning Department at 843-5250.

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