The Flathead County Board of Adjustment has narrowly approved Clearview Tower Company’s request to build a 108-foot-tall cell phone tower just outside Glacier National Park.
The tower, to be built in West Glacier and camouflaged by a tree-like structure, drew considerable scrutiny prior to Tuesday night’s board meeting. In public comments that echoed a larger national debate on the issue, several residents voiced alarm about the tower in this scenic corridor, while a few supported improved communication.
Both backers and opponents came to Tuesday’s meeting, according to draft minutes provided by the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Office. At the start of the public comment period, David Girling of Bozeman, whose LinkedIn profile lists him as a senior radio frequency technician at T-Mobile, remarked that the company needed the tower to provide coverage in the park, and that emergency responders would need those services.
The board was also presented with a letter from retired Coram-West Glacier Fire Chief Walter Tabb, current Fire Chief Matt Cox, and EMS Captain Chris Dalimata supporting the tower. Tyler Ament, who presented the letter and said his family was involved with the Coram-West Glacier Volunteer Fire Department, and was helping to build the tower, also stressed its value for first responders and said that a structure of this height would be necessary to avoid the need for several shorter towers.
But these supportive comments were followed by 13 in opposition. They raised several concerns, including the county’s transparency and depth of investigation, and whether the tower was truly necessary for first responders. The most common concern, however, was that the tower would mar the view over the Flathead River’s Middle Fork and the southern portion of Glacier.
Clearview’s Bill Ray sought to allay these concerns, maintaining that only a fleeting glimpse of the tower would be possible from U.S. 2. County staff also addressed some of the regulatory questions that had been raised, including a section of the Flathead County Zoning Regulations that exempts communication towers that receive conditional use permits from building height limitations.
The draft minutes state that during their discussion, “the Board collectively noted that the tower appears to be something that could be needed by the community but the location is less than ideal.”
Despite their reservations, the Board of Adjustments voted 3-2 to grant the tower a conditional use permit. According to Rachel Ezell with the Planning and Zoning Office, Mark Hash and Roger Noble voted against it, while Cal Dyck, Gina Klempel and Ole Netteberg supported it.
Bill Ray expects construction to be completed by the end of the year, weather permitting.