Lake Lawrence Cell Tower Hearing (Remand) Set For Sept. 11

Lake Lawrence Cell Tower Hearing (Remand) Set For Sept. 11

Long-billed Dowitchers at Smith Ranch

The remand hearing on the Lake Lawrence cell tower construction will be held Sep. 11, 10 am, at the Thurston County Courthouse.  BHAS opposes locating the proposed tower so close to several water features where waterfowl concentrate.  The water features include a Priority 2 pond, the Deschutes River, the Smith Ranch wetlands, and the nearby Lake Lawrence, all southwest of Yelm.  The presence of BHAS members and other citizens is important to demonstrate opposition to this project.

Public testimony on the land use portion of the application, with a three minute limit for each speaker, will occur at 1 pm.  I believe the importance of bird watching to your life (and others) may be addressed at this time. You can discuss how the cell tower would diminish your experience visually and by reducing (most likely) the population of birds in and around the Smith Ranch Mitigation Area and/or flyway.   Such public testimony with many personal stories would be valuable addition to the hearing.

Background:  In March 2016, BHAS supported an appeal of a cell phone tower construction next to several waterfowl concentration areas.  The high potential for bird collisions with the tower was/is the concern.  The Thurston County Hearings Examiner remanded the proposal back to county staff for further review. The proponent, Verizon Wireless, then hired a contractor to study and report on bird movements near the tower site.   The Deschutes Neighborhood Group (DNG), the appellant, conducted their own bird survey.   BHAS helped DNG with survey work and volunteer training.  With guidance from a local research ecologist, DNG produced its own citizen science study of birds and their flight patterns around the Smith Ranch Mitigation pasture/wetland and proposed cell tower location.

WA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife reviewed both studies and concluded in January 2018:

“Although the Smith Ranch Mitigation Area is not a formal wildlife refuge, it is a publically owned site purchased for the sole purpose of wildlife and habitat mitigation for the Deschutes River Basin whose restoration is required to allow for joint acquisition of water rights and land by the cities of Olympia, Lacey and Yelm.  As such, Thurston County should view this mitigation site in the same vein as a wildlife and habitat refuge.  The Deschutes/Black Hills study found that almost 3 times the amount of waterfowl was observed flying to and from the direction of the Smith Ranch Mitigation Area than elsewhere in the study area.  The Trileaf study also found that waterfowl/wading species flight paths were almost exclusively concentrated through the open pasture area of the Smith Ranch wetland area.  As such, the proposed cell tower would be within 1,000 ft. of two waterfowl concentration areas (163rd wetlands, Smith Ranch Mitigation Area), one of which serves as a publically owned refuge.”

 Dr. Albert Manville, a former and now retired USFWS national expert on bird cell tower collisions, will be testifying via computer for the DNG.

Smith Ranch restoration

And, it is thrilling to report that this summer (2018), as part of already ongoing mitigation measures, the Smith Ranch pasture dikes were razed to return the area to its original wetlands.  Waterfowl appeared immediately in the newly flooded fields, even with bulldozers operating nearby!  At this writing, mitigation efforts continue.

*By Thurston County regulation, a cell tower may not be within a 1,000’ of a wildlife refuge.