Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion The entrance to the Kenai Peninsula Borough building in Soldotna.

Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion The entrance to the Kenai Peninsula Borough building in Soldotna.

Assembly unanimously approves construction of communications towers

Four towers will be constructed to expand internet access following an assembly vote Tuesday.

Four new communications towers will be constructed throughout the peninsula to help expand internet access to rural communities following a unanimous Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly vote authorizing lease agreements on Tuesday.

The towers will be constructed in Ninilchik, Nikolaevsk, Cohoe and Bear Creek via lease agreements with SPITwSPOTS, Inc., an Alaska-based internet service provider. The original legislation included a tower in Tyonek, however the Borough Planning Commission recommended removing it from the agreement because the borough does not have a “clear title” to the land on which the tower would have been built.

The project will be funded via CARES Act money. The borough specifically allocated $1.2 to $2 million to improve public access to the internet through tower site development and infrastructure in June and awarded grants to SPITwSPOTS Inc. and Alaska Communication Services in August.

The project has faced some pushback from residents who live in proximity to the site at the Bear Creek Fire Station who say it will obstruct views and lower property values.

David and Sherie Fryxell, of Moose Pass, said the project feels “extremely rushed” and that the Bear Creek tower will be put directly in front of their house and a new bed and breakfast they are building. Because the tower will obstruct mountain views, they anticipate their bed and breakfast, which they said is part of their retirement plan, will suffer and their home value will decrease.

“We are sure that with more time Spit Spot will be able to find a new location that, while possible not on Borough property, will allow them to have more range and service for families while not negatively impacting them at the same time,” the letter says.

Rosie Patnode and Gryphon Stephens, who said they purchased a house near the Bear Creek site one month ago, also submitted a comment in opposition to the Bear Creek tower and asked the assembly to conduct an environmental impact survey ahead before approving the construction in order to see what consequences it would have on surrounding wildlife.

“If we had known there was a change this tower could be constructed and the risks it posed to our health and future family’s health we would never have bought our house,” the letter says. “We’ve saved for years to buy this home and invested so much time and funds into bettering our property just to have its value plummeted by the construction of this tower.”

Assembly President Kelly Cooper asked during the borough’s Tuesday Policies and Procedures Committee whether or not the assembly had enough time to be responsive to the concerns given the project’s accelerated timeline. Borough Land Management Officer Marcus Mueller said that the location of the towers is mostly the decision of SPITwSPOTS Inc., and that the borough’s responsibility arises when the locations the company chooses are on borough land.

“I just think about me sitting on my deck looking out at the bay and then poof! A tower,” Cooper said. “I would just be really frustrated, so I certainly understand their concerns.”

Borough IT Director Ben Hanson said that the selection of the Seward site was particularly difficult and that efforts were made to obscure the tower as much as possible.

“There definitely was an investigation done as far as other potential areas,” Hanson said. “When you look at that valley, part of the goal was to be able to see up towards Seward proper in terms of the coverage for radios and really if you move too much out of that position you end up just getting the bulk of the population blocked off by the mountainside.”

Access to the internet has been of special interest during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen many people work or take classes remotely. As of Oct. 16, 21 Kenai Peninsula School District schools were operating at high-risk level, meaning classes are conducted 100% remotely, including all schools on the eastern peninsula, which includes Seward and Moose Pass. Additionally, a district survey on Sept. 24 found that more than 20% of all students were enrolled in Connections, the district’s home-school program.

SPITwSPOTS Inc. has 15 days from when the ordinance was enacted to execute the lease agreements.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

Clem Tillion of Halibut Cove poses for a photo on Jan. 9, 2020, in Homer, Alaska. The veteran Alaska legislator was passing through Homer while waiting to take the M/V Tustumena ferry to Kodiak. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Clem Tillion, PFD founder and former legislator, dies at 96

Tillion died Wedneday, Oct. 13, at Halibut Cove home.

Thunder Mountain High School on April 18.  Earlier this fall, vandalism including stolen soap dispensers and toilets clogged with foreign objects such as paper towel rolls were a problem at schools nationwide and in Juneau. But, principals say the local situation is improving. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
After brief surge, vandalism subsiding at local high schools

Principals say internet trends, stress likely behind incidents.

In this Jan. 8, 2020, photo Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, heads to a briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington. An Alaska man faces federal charges after authorities allege he threatened to hire an assassin to kill Murkowski, according to court documents unsealed Wed., Oct. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite,File)
Delta Junction man faces charges over threatening Murkowski’s life

Authorities allege he threatened to hire an assassin to kill the senator.

Donna Aderhold recites the Homer City Council oath of office and is sworn in for duty at the city council meeting on Oct. 11. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
New council members sworn into duty Monday

Newly-elected Homer City Council members Shelly Erickson and Jason Davis and re-elected… Continue reading

Runners participate in boys varsity race at the Ted McKenney XC Invitational on Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, at Tsalteshi Trails just outside of Soldotna, Alaska. The trails recently reported incidents of vandalism and theft. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Vandalism and theft reported at Tsalteshi Trails

One trail user reported stolen skis recently and multiple signs have been defaced.

At left Bonita Banks, RN, Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) nurse at Homer Medical Center, and at right, Annie Garay, RN, Community Health Educator, pose for a photo at South Peninsula Hospital on Sept. 27, 2021, at Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Derotha Ferraro/South Peninsula Hospital)
New hospital community health educator starts

Garay, a Homer raised nurse, came home to ride out COVID-19, wound up doing pandemic nursing.

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Montessori school goes to universal indoor masking

As of Tuesday, eight KPBSD schools were operating with universal indoor masking for staff and students.

Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Seawatch: Crabbers look at cuts to quotas

Tanner, opilio crab quotas cut on top of cancellation of fall king crab fishery.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Judge sides with psychiatrists who alleged wrongful firing

Two psychiatrists said they were wrongfully fired when Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy took office.

Most Read