Workers begin dismantling Qwest's old relay tower
The hills that roll north from Missoula remain peaceful, but the sign proclaiming their ways is gone.
Workers began dismantling the city's trademark peace sign Tuesday, lowering most of the old communications tower slowly to the ground.
Last year, Qwest Communications deemed the tower - which once relayed telephone signals between Missoula and the Bitterroot Valley - obsolete and said it would be removed from its hilltop perch.
But because the tower had been painted years ago with a peace sign and had since become a local landmark, many in Missoula asked that the tower remain. A debate ensued. In the end, the decision belonged to Qwest, and the company didn't want the liability.
Thus the dismantling Tuesday by four workers from Structural Systems Inc., a Missoula contractor. By noon, three of the panels were down and carpenter Tim Grogan was breathing easier. "We've got it figured out now," he said.
Because of concerns that heavy machinery could crush a rare outcropping of spring-blooming cushion plants on the hilltop, Grogan and his co-workers climbed the tower behind the sign and used ropes - rather than a forklift - to lower the panels.
"They're not that heavy," he said. "Maybe 200 pounds. But they are a little unwieldy."
A few North Side residents saw the work in progress and trundled up the hill for a closer look. City Council member Jamie Carpenter was one of the first arrivals. "It's sad to see it go," she said. "This sign was a Missoula landmark."
Sherry Lee was leaving the dentist's office when she saw the trucks. She ran home, grabbed her camera and started crying. "This is a sad, sad day for a lot of people in Missoula," she said. "We were so lucky to have a peace sign on our hill. I never really believed they would take it down."
Many times over the years, a clandestine group of painters climbed the hill to reapply the peace symbol - usually after the telephone company whitewashed the tower, most recently after a slurry bomber coated it in pink fire retardant during a grass fire last summer.
Now the nine panels likely will be donated to a community group, and the city may buy (at a bargain price) the 0.23-acre tower site. The land surrounding the tower already is city-owned open space.
"I never really saw the peace sign as an icon," Mayor Mike Kadas said from his office below the North Hills. "For me, it was more of a billboard on open-space land."
Kadas said he saw no reason to fight the sign's removal because he "couldn't imagine any circumstances under which we would allow anyone to put a sign on top of that hill today. That made taking it down seem pretty logical."
Reporter Sherry Devlin can be reached at 523-5268 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.