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City officials mull SVID plan to install tower near local homes

Officials from the Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District (SVID), during a public hearing held yesterday by the city's Staff Review Committee, defended their plan to build a 120-foot tall communication tower.

SVID appeared before the committee because it needs a conditional use permit from the city before it can build the three-legged tower.

Don Schramm, assistant manager of operations for SVID, said the tower is part of an overall upgrade that will allow the district to monitor potential leaks or other problems in its irrigation system.

SVID's office and work yard is located at 120 South 11th St., which is zoned for industry.

The problem, according to one of the more than 60 property owners contacted for the hearing, is that SVID's site borders a residential area.

"We believe that this structure is incompatible with any neighborhood setting," Blaine Avenue residents Gary and Cheryl Pira wrote in a letter opposing the tower.

Dick Haapala, an agricultural engineer working with SVID on the project, explained that the tower's low frequency signal requires a clear path to 30 or 40 field sites stationed around the irrigation system.

"The tower will help us get information from the field to the office," Schramm explained.

Haapala told the committee that SVID tried other locations for relaying a signal. One alternative explored was on top of the Sunnyside water tower.

Those results were unsatisfactory, he said, because the relay signal was inconsistent and because SVID would not have total control over access to the site since it is owned by the city of Sunnyside.

In response to a question by committee member Mike Storms, SVID stated that it thought of pursuing other locations on its 120 S. 11th St. property, rather than the currently proposed spot in the lot, which is closer to a residential area.

The problem came down to finding a part of the lot at 11th Street that wasn't already being used for equipment or storage.

In response to other concerns raised by the Piras, Haapala said the three-legged tower is designed to withstand 100 mph winds.

The Piras also expressed a concern that the height of the tower might interfere with air space for pilots using the Sunnyside Airport.

City Planner Jamey Ayling pointed out that the tower would have to be 340 feet tall in order to interfere with the air space in and out of the airport.

SVID further pointed out that there are trees in the city taller than the tower, and the fact that there are other towers around Sunnyside, such as one near McDonalds.

Haapala said SVID has not yet heard from the Federal Aviation Administration whether or not a lighted signal will have to be put on top of the tower to warn aircraft.

Schramm noted if a light was necessary, it would point up and out, not down onto neighboring property owners below.

In other responses to the Piras' letter, Schramm said he was unaware of any property values that would decline because of the tower and Haapala said the one-watt signal is so low that it is unlikely to cause radio interference.

Ayling told SVID officials that he didn't see any concerns about the tower, but stopped short of recommending approval.

Instead, the committee opted to defer a decision until it receives a photo simulation from SVID of what the tower will look like. In addition, Storms said he wanted to see more specific plans related to a site buffer.

The committee has 10 days from the time SVID provides the additional material to issue a decision on the tower.

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