DRIFTLESS - After a flurry of citizen engagement to oppose construction of 300-foot cell phone towers by the Bug Tussel company in Richland and Vernon Counties, matters seemed to simmer down over the summer and fall. Although on low heat over a back burner, the issue of construction of towers in West Lima in Richland County, and in the towns of Harmony and Whitestown in Vernon County look to move back to the front burner in 2020.
West Lima tower
In West Lima in the Richland County Town of Bloom, People for Sane Technology have announced that they have retained Attorney Joe Cincotta to oppose the proposed tower in court. Funds are being raised by the group to pay for public awareness campaigns and to pay the group’s legal fees. To learn more about the group, go to https://people4safe-sane-tech.com.
The group of citizens opposed to the construction of that tower have formed an unincorporated, non-profit association, dedicated to representing southwestern Wisconsin property owners and other concerned citizens who want to maintain their rural quality of life.
According to documents released by the group, the charter of ‘People for Sane Technology’ is “to advise and represent individuals in southwestern Wisconsin whose property rights are being or may be negatively impacted through approval of land use plans, permits and other uses that create incompatibilities and adversely affect the community. These include conditional use permits, and zoning changes or additions which negatively impact the county and the townships.”
The group’s charter says it will “act in a leadership role to protect residents from the impacts of decreased property values, nuisance activities, threats to safety, and environmental degradation that may be imposed on them by the allowance of negative uses.” It goes on to say that they “also act in an advisory role to aid the towns and counties in making decisions on these and other land use matters that may have negative impacts, and to support projects that enhance the county and the towns.”
In their charter document, the group’s purpose is described as being “to generate resources (financial and other), develop strategies, and execute plans to research, and when appropriate, challenge any proposals that negatively impact the rural and peaceful and high quality of life that has developed in the counties, towns and vicinity as of any time of any acts taken relating to such proposed operations.”
Their long-term goal is “to help the state, the counties and the towns develop sound land use planning policies that will have a sound legal foundation and longevity, including challenges to existing laws, ordinances and other regulations.”
Town Board Chairman of the Vernon County Town of Whitestown, George Wilbur, reports that after hearing nothing for six months, Cloud 1 LLC/Bug Tussel Wireless LLC has contacted the town about siting a cell phone tower there.
After several contentious public input meetings in July of 2019, the town board learned on Monday, August 5, that Bug Tussel had withdrawn their application for the site they had originally proposed.
Neighbors had gathered to research and propose an alternative site which would be further away from some homes in the township, but closer to another home. After agreeing to consider the location, Bug Tussel informed the town that they would not consider the proposed location. The reason cited by the company is costs associated with development of the site.
Now, on Tuesday, Dec. 17, the company has contacted the Whitestown Town Board to let them know that they are interested in the proposed alternative location. They originally requested a response from the town board prior to the Christmas holiday. The town pushed back on this short response time, and the company has indicated it will wait for a response until after the first of the year. As of yet, the town board has not received an application.
“I responded to their e-mail to let Bug Tussel know that they will need to start over with a new application as the last one was denied by the board,” Town of Whitestown chairman George Wilbur said. “Although the site was proposed as an alternative by a group of local citizens, any new application will need to go through the entire process again before it could be approved by the board.”
In their communication to the board, Bug Tussel described the actions taken by them recently to evaluate the proposed site.
“The Wilsons, as well as Bug Tussel Wireless, have been accommodating to solicit input from the community as to which tower location the adjacent residents feel is the most acceptable, as well as open to potentially moving the site to help alleviate concern,” the e-mail from Bug Tussel employee Chris Henshue explained. “Additionally, our RF (radio frequency) engineers have further evaluated the two site locations [in the Town of Whitestown], and have determined that a 195-foot tower would still work for our network needs. Please note that previously a 300-foot tower was proposed and that that tower structure would have required two sets of lighted beacons at different elevations on the tower. However, by being able to reduce the tower height to below 200 feet, we would be able to eliminate the need for it to have any flashing beacons on the tower structure.”
The e-mail explained that on December 3, Bug Tussel’s consulting engineer, Raymaker & Associates, and Bill Quackenbush with the Ho Chunk Nation, met at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. During that meeting, a balloon test was performed where a six-foot-tall balloon was elevated to a height of 195 feet in accordance with the proposed tower height. The test was performed at both possible tower locations. The balloons were then viewed by the parties at the culturally sensitive tribal areas. Then on December 5, Bug Tussel, Raymaker, Bill Quackenbush, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and the Federal Communications Commission held a meeting at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve to discuss the outcomes of the balloon test.
“While not an officially sanctioned meeting to provide a judgment on the site alternatives, Bill Quackenbush did voice that he believes either of the proposed locations would be acceptable to them in a formal determination from the Ho Chunk,” the e-mail reads.
Vernon County’s Town of Harmony Board voted on July 17, 2019, to unanimously to uphold the unanimous recommendation of the town’s zoning committee to deny Bug Tussel the conditional use permit needed to construct a 300-foot, guy-wired cell phone tower on the Todd Whistler property adjacent to Fauske Lane.
In October of 2019, Attorney James Remington, of Husch Blackwell, contacted Town of Harmony Chairman Lorn Goede regarding an application for a driveway and site permit for the cell tower Bug Tussel had proposed to build in the township.
Chairman Goede responded to Mr. Remington on October 26, 2019.
In his letter, Goede informed Remington that the Town of Harmony had denied Bug Tussel a conditional use permit to build the proposed cell tower. Because the permit had been denied, Goede wrote, there is no need for the town to act on a driveway or site permit application.
Goede specified to Remington that the town had the authority to deny the conditional use permit because it has comprehensive zoning and a town plan. As Vernon County does not have comprehensive planning at the county level, each township is therefore subject to their own local zoning ordinances.