It was standing-room only at Prairie City’s Oct. 11 city council meeting, where a proposal to consider a conditional use permit for a U.S. Cellular cellphone tower was turned down.
A total of 33 people filled the council room, including Mayor Jim Hamsher and six council members. The meeting started with an hour-long hearing to address the cell tower.
Loren Bebb sought a permit to place a 195-foot cellphone tower on his Prairie City property at 10th Street and Hall Avenue.
Tracey Malone, a zoning specialist for Faulk & Foster, made a presentation about the benefits of placing the tower in that area, which happens to be next to the school.
Cellphone providers currently available in Prairie City are Verizon and AT&T. Malone said the nearest U.S. Cellular tower is in John Day.
“It’s a challenging terrain,” she said, noting surveyors studied the area for two years, looking for the most constructible and feasible area, which is also zoneable.
Malone said the benefits of a tower would include more choice and competitive pricing.
Council members Dottie Miller, Les Church, Frank Primozic, Joe Phippen and Georgia Patterson voted against the proposed site. Councilwoman Carole Garrison abstained. Some council members said they heard from constituents who didn’t like the location.
Joe Phippen said some residents told him the proposed site is too close to the school and a residential area. Miller agreed it would be too close to the school.
Phippen was also concerned about how the tower would hold up in windy conditions.
Katy Nelson, in the audience, said she lives between Prairie City and John Day and pays a lot for only a little cellphone coverage.
“We desperately need to have a choice,” she said.
After the council voted against the proposal, Miller said, “I don’t think we would not want it in our area, as long as it’s not in a highly populated area.”
Primozic added, “We would love to have the tower. It’s just the location they picked couldn’t be worse from an aesthetic standpoint.”
After further discussion, the council unanimously voted to approve of the cell tower, if it could be placed in the area of the city’s industrial park.
Malone said she would look into the new proposed site.
City considers joining broadband coalition
The city council meeting included a presentation from John Day City Manager Nick Green about the $1.82 million in broadband funding awarded to John Day.
The funding from the state legislature will be used to run a 75-mile, 144-strand fiber cable on power poles from Burns to John Day.
Patterson asked why Prairie City would want to be a part of it.
“We wanted to give every city the opportunity,” Green said. “When you have one provider, you may not be in a good position five to 10 years from now.”
He mentioned price control and no competition as downfalls to not joining the coalition. Green said the city could join now or later, but there may be a cost to join later once the coalition is established.
“My goal is to take the county from the second worst to the second best (in the state),” Green said.
John Day Police Chief Richard Gray, who was a long-time resident of Prairie City, said he approved of the project.
“It would increase internet service,” Gray said. “I don’t think we’re risking anything.”
Mayor Hamsher said Prairie City has faster internet than John Day and expressed concern about the city’s current problem of residents unable to water their lawns.
“It would be different if I could see the end cost,” Hamsher said.
Some of the pluses to the broadband project Green mentioned included faster speeds and competition, which could result in lower prices, and access to higher education.
“If you’re not leading on the cutting edge of technology, then your economy slows down,” Green said. “It won’t solve our problems, but it would remove a barrier.”
When asked, a majority in the audience raised their hands in favor of joining the broadband coalition.
The council voted to send out a mass mailing to residents with information and a survey about the project before making a decision.
Water workshop set for Oct. 18
Public Works Director Chris Camarena said a Department of Environmental Quality inspection of the city water system had taken place that day, and he would have a report soon.
He said sewer leaks have also been an issue, and said the city is running on borrowed time where the sewer pumps are concerned.
“It they (break) it could be catastrophic,” he said, adding, “We’ve got to get another well by spring.”
Hamsher set up a water workshop, which will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18, at city hall, 133 S. Bridge St., and the public can attend.
The mayor said he, the council and Camarena will look at proposed well sites to add additional water to the current system.
In other news, attention was brought to the bill for porta-potties rented during the eclipse. The original bill was $7,200, yet many of them didn’t require being serviced every day. It was noted that city clerk Bobbie Brown saved nearly $4,000 by making calls about the issue, lowering the price to $3,276.
Garrison said the group that brought vintage trailers to Christmas on the Prairie last year would like to invite more to join at this year’s Nov. 18 event. She asked if they could have permission to use the blacktop, the empty downtown parking lot, for dry camping, which the council approved.
It was also noted the recycling center is seeking volunteers. For more information, call city hall at 541-820-3605.