The Airport Land Use Commission will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday in the airport director's Office, Columbia Airport, 10723 Airport Road, Columbia, CA 95310

New cell towers are being proposed and constructed throughout Tuolumne County at a faster rate than in the past due to a combination of an improving economy, unmet demand, and support from the federal government, said David Gonzalves, director of the county’s Community Resources Agency.

“I don’t think there’s any one thing driving it,” Gonzalves said. “I think it’s just our time for them to finally get around to putting funding in our area.”

The Community Resources Agency, which oversees land-use planning, is processing a plethora of new proposals for building cell towers in underserved areas of the county.

In the past two years, towers have been constructed off Camage Avenue in Sonora and near Pine Mountain Lake Airport in Groveland. There’s also one under construction on Enterprise Drive in Chinese Camp near the Pacific Ultrapower Chinese Station biomass plant.

Two proposals are scheduled to go before the county Airport Land Use Commission for review at a meeting on Thursday, including a 110-foot AT&T cell tower at 22560 Ferretti Road near Pine Mountain Lake in Groveland and a 103-foot AT&T tower at 3233 El Prado Road in La Grange.

County planners are in the process of reviewing recently submitted applications for a cell tower at Highway 120 and Main Street in Chinese Camp and another off Milpitas Road in La Grange. Those will likely be going before the Tuolumne County Planning Commission for approval early next year.

Gonzalves said the county assesses coverage maps provided by the companies to determine if a proposed tower is necessary in a given area and requires them to ensure joint access to restrict the numbers of towers.

“Some people think they are ugly, and some people think they are great,” Gonzalves said. “The maps for the coverage areas are something that we assess to make sure we’re optimizing those locations.”

The proposed AT&T tower on Dante Drive in Jamestown would be constructed with money from the Connect America Fund, a government program under the Federal Communications Commission to provide billions of dollars a year for expanding high-speed Internet access in rural areas.

In 2015, AT&T agreed to accept obligations for funding from the program to deploy more high-speed Internet access in census blocks identified as underserved and economically disadvantaged.

“They will essentially provide subsidy money if providers are willing to go in there and serve these census blocks,” said Kate Ijams, a spokeswoman for AT&T.

Ijams said more providers are building cell towers in rural areas to only provide signal to mobile phones, but also for wireless Internet to homes that rivals speeds they could get through traditional wired infrastructure.

It’s a new way for companies to deliver high-speed Internet to people in rural areas where the mountainous terrain can make installing underground wired infrastructure costly and difficult.

“It’s the same LGE-type of Internet that cell phones use, except you have a receiver in your home,” Ijams said.

There was also a recent proposal to construct a 105-foot AT&T tower at 8555 Dante Drive in Jamestown that hit a snag when opponents appealed the commission’s Oct. 4 approval to the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors.

The county was forced to cancel the appeal hearing and will have to go back to the planning commission for a do-over after realizing the original public notice for the Oct. 4 meeting wasn’t properly handled.

Some of the opposition included owners of local communications companies who argued that the proposed tower’s use of public funding was unfair to smaller Internet services providers like themselves.

A date has yet to be announced for the public hearing.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.


This story has been updated to correct the date of the Airport Land Use Commission meeting.

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