The Lake Lawrence Cell Tower Proposal: A Three Year Journey
(by Sue Danver and Alex Foster) – As you may remember, Black Hills Chapter of the Audubon Society (BHAS) supported an appeal of the proposed Lake Lawrence cell phone tower at a hearing before the Thurston County Hearing Examiner on March 15, 2016. The reason was due to the tower’s location next to waterfowl concentration areas and newly restored wetlands on the Deschutes River floodplain at Smith Ranch resulting in high potential for bird collisions with the tower. County code requires a 1000-foot setback from these features; the proposed tower would be within 430 feet. In May of 2016, the Hearing Examiner agreed and remanded the proposal back to the County planning department for further review. The project applicant Verizon Wireless(VW) hired a contractor to study bird movements near the site. BHAS members assisted a local wildlife researcher and neighborhood volunteers to conduct a similar bird study. Both studies showed birds flying in close proximity to the tower. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife evaluated both studies and agreed with their results. VW then hired another contractor, an avian expert used by the telecom and wind turbine industries, to assess the tower’s risk for bird strikes. The appellant group also hired an avian expert to assess the risk. A second hearing was conducted September 2018, however, this time the Hearing Examiner agreed with the applicant, “While the proposed tower location is within 1,000 feet of two waterfowl concentration areas (163rd wetlands, Smith Ranch Mitigation Area) and this placement does put wildlife at more risk…however, I think the applicant has adequately analyzed that risk and I concur with the conclusion that the risk of bird strikes exists but is low due to the height and design of the tower.” The neighborhood group appealed the Hearing Examiner’s decision in front of the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). Commissioners Hutchins and Blake decided, but Commissioner Edwards, who lives near Lake Lawrence, initially stated he had no prior communications with case parties but later recused (disqualified) himself from the decision. The remaining board members upheld the Hearing Examiner’s decision.
A new group has since filed an appeal in Superior Court. They cite several procedural errors made by the County including records excluded from the case file that should have been available for consideration in both the Hearing Examiner and the BOCC decisions…the odyssey continues.