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Stealth tower contract awarded

What's tall and green but turns blue in the sun and sticks out like a sore thumb?

The answer, some residents of Afton are afraid, will be the Washington County stealth communications tower, destined for installation at 15326 Afton Hills Court.

Washington County commissioners voted at their meeting on Oct. 7 to award the contract valued at $102,433 to Sabre Towers and Poles Inc., based in Sioux City, Iowa.

The 88-foot stealth tower is designed to resemble a pine tree and will house equipment enabling the Washington County sheriff's department's new 800 megahertz system to go live. Construction is scheduled to begin next month.

Afton city officials and Afton Hills residents met with members of the sheriff's department ahead of the Afton Planning Commission meeting on Monday, Oct. 6 and, according to the county, gave their concurrence with the final design and selected a manufacturer for the stealth tower.

Many citizens have voiced a concern over just what "stealth" means, however, and at the planning commission meeting later that night, one of those fears was voiced.

Bonnie Blackley, an Afton resident, said she had used artificial flowers and foliage for years and was aware of one major problem.

"I have yet to come up with something that, after three to five years, does not turn blue," she said.

Giving an update to residents at the Oct. 6 meeting, Afton Planning Commission chairman Jim Fox said the public mood now seemed to be one of resignation to the tower.

"The general consensus was that we still don't want one (tower) but we are going to have to have one, so let's make it as palatable as possible," he explained.

"The big issue was the microwave dish for communicating between towers."

Fox added that Capt. Steve Pott of the sheriff's office, who has been leading the development of the 800 megahertz communications system, had proposed a slightly different location on the land at 15326 Afton Hills Court from that which was included in the original application, suggesting that the altered location would provide better screening of the monopine.

Pott was planning to stake out the proposed location this week to allow neighbors to view it and give feedback on their preference.

Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton said last week he expected construction on the tower to begin next month and last a couple of weeks, with testing and alignment of the microwaves and radios to be performed in December and January.

When switched on in February, the Afton tower will provide the missing link in the county's network of 14 towers, meaning the system can finally go live after months of delays.

The stealth way

The thorny question of communications towers in Afton is still under discussion, five months after the City Council approved the Washington County monopine.

Shortly after that approval was granted, the City Council acted to impose a moratorium on any further applications for one year.

Since then, the Afton Planning Commission has been pondering the best way to proceed with overhauling the city's radio tower ordinance and correcting what some felt were loopholes and failures with the existing code.

After discussion on Oct. 6, city planner Charles Marohn said he would work on some preliminary wording for the revised ordinance.

"My sense is that there's not going to be a tower in Afton where you aren't going to ask for it to be stealth," he said.