Frankenpine...May Be Coming to a Town Near You

Why a 100-foot, pine tree-shaped cell phone tower is raising eyebrows

Story by Jessica Bellack
Photos courtesy of the Adirondack Council

Lake George, New York, is a popular tourist destination that offers such attractions as the Million Dollar Beach and the scenic Adirondack Park. These are some of the same areas that have little or no Nextel cell phone service, both a social and safety concern for some.

Frankenpine tower
This is what Nextel's tower might look like on Pilot Knob.
The state Adirondack Park Agency has provided the Nextel Company with a conditional permit to erect a 104 foot cell tower shaped like a pine tree. Nextel Partners Incorporated turned over their detailed revised plans on the tree tower this summer, meeting the APA's rules and regulations.


The tower, which would be painted brown and also include pine-shaped appendages, will soar around 30 feet past the other oaks, a major concern for those who oppose the project. Nextel representatives insist that the continuing, sloping height of the mountain will mask the larger stature of the tower, but environmentalists are not convinced.

�It doesn't look like any tree on this planet."

�It doesn't look like any tree on this planet,� says John Sheehan, communications director of the Adirondack Council. Sheehan refers to the tower as �in drag� and remarks how closely it resembles a toilet brush.

The Adirondack Council, a non-profit organization working to protect the Adirondack Park, has refused to stand by idly waiting for the construction to begin, so they've taken the APA to the State Supreme Court. The hearing, which has been pushed back since the first assigned judge ran into a potential conflict of interest, is set for January of 2006. Judge Frank Williams of Saratoga County was assigned to the hearing. The Adirondack Council argues that the APA made arbitrary errors in their decision making.

Brian Ford, the project administrator for the APA, says he's heard people argue both for and against the erection of the tower. �People against it generally have concerns about visibility and that it will obstruct the view,� Ford says. �I mainly got a sense that [those who want the tower] want it for communication, but also emergency communication.�

The area that the cell tower will be built is Pilot Knob, a trail head on Buck Mountain. Buck Mountain sits at the east side of Lake George and is host to far-reaching views from west to north, a view accessible by their popular climbing trials. Environmentalists argue that the tower will both present environmental woes and obstruct the scenic view.

�It [the tower] is designed in such a way that the clearing of the site is likely to cause pollution in Lake George and the wetlands,� says Sheehan. The contractors must clear a sloped acre of land on very little dirt, before hitting rock. Sheehan says that because of this, the council is concerned with flooding that may be caused by accelerated water runoff. He also questions how the tower will be stabilized on just a foot and a half of dirt.

�It [the tower] is designed in such a way that the clearing of the site is likely to cause pollution in Lake George and the wetlands.�

The second reason for concern is aesthetic. The site, which appears unchanged since the turn of the twentieth century, has been a well known subject of landscape, painted by artists from the Great Hudson River School in the 1800s, right up to the modern day, Georgia O'Keeffe.

Sheehan says not only are these issues a concern, but the site is a popular tourist attraction. By building structures that obstruct the beauty of the land, the tower may actually cause an economic loss for the area.

The Adirondack Council also worries that the introduction of such a tower will set a new precedent. Sheehan believes the issue of public safety isn't Nextel's main interest, but instead, they wish to compete with the communication market of the three other cellular companies that already have service in these areas. The Adirondack Council has researched and discovered four existing sets of buildings that could have been sites for a cell tower offering equal or better service. According to Sheehan, Verizon, Cingular, and T-Mobile have service in the Lake George area, some of which comes from fake chimneys or on the golf course of the Sagamore Hotel.

Do you think the tower should be built?

Where in the world?

These faux trees are popping up all over the country including San Diego, Washington, and Arizona, taking the shape of Dougals firs and palm trees. Some churches have even made negotiations to place them in their steeples, making hundreds of thousands dollers a year. Cell signals are also coming from watertowers and flagpoles. Residents of these areas generally have mixed feelings about the towers. Some say that they are an unnecessary eyesore, while others argue that it's the price you pay to be able to talk on your phone.


Are they worth it?

These towers typically cost anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000, an estimated ten times the costs of a normal tower. Experts also say that the signal may not be as efficient considering the camouflage materials surrounding the tower.

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