Two much-needed AT&T cell tower projects have been put on the backburner, and Summit County commissioners aren’t happy about it.
This month, they sent a strongly worded letter to AT&T expressing their concerns with the lack of cell service in several parts of the county. After working toward the towers for two years, AT&T recently announced to the Summit County Planning Department that it had been removed from their list of projects.
Summit County commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said the cell towers, which would have added coverage to the Lower Blue, Summit Cove and Keystone, were crucial to safety.
“This is a geographic area in dire of need of being able to call 911, for instance,” she said. “We have had numerous situations in the Lower Blue, numerous accidents, wildlife collisions … We’ve had numerous accidents where we’ve had near fatalities due to a lack of ability to call 911.
She added that the county and Friends of the Lower Blue River had worked with AT&T for the last two years to bring the cell towers to the county. Last December, AT&T stated that the project would no longer be on their list, but Stiegelmeier convinced them to continue with the project, until their most recent notice.
John Hillman, with Friends of the Lower Blue, added that the county worked hard to ready a cell tower site north of Silverthorne, creating a special four-acre subdivision with an access road especially for the project.
“It took many months — even years — to get this deal arranged. It was really shovel-ready,” he said. “With all kinds of legal work, the county bent over backwards trying to fast-track this.”
“We scrambled to make the subdivision process, then AT&T just sat on it, it seemed to us,” Stiegelmeier said.
She added that the county sees a 20-mile stretch north of Silverthorne without cell service. This includes portions of State Highway 9, which several residents use to travel between work and home — nearly 5,000 people per day, according to an estimate by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
AT&T made a statement in response to the county’s concerns on Tuesday, but did not comment on the future of the two lots:
“We understand the concerns this community and county commissioners must have regarding this decision, and we’re very appreciative of the collaborative process we’ve had to date,” the statement read. “AT&T regularly evaluates and assesses networks construction plans, market conditions and customer needs. It is currently unknown when building plans may resume.”
Hillman, a former doctor who currently resides in the Lower Blue, emphasized the importance of cell service in emergency response to car accidents, fires and other disasters.
“It’s happened time and time again. There’s an accident, someone’s injured and they can’t call for help. They have to drive several miles toward Silverthorne just to be able to call for help,” he said. “We have fires all the time. If we are not sitting next to our phones, our landlines, we can’t call them in … I’ve counted some 14 fires that have been visible from our house.”
From the beginning of discussions, the plan was to build two cell towers, one located between Keystone and Summit Cove at 683 Landfill Road and another north of Silverthorne at 3120 Johnson Road.
Verizon Wireless is currently in the process of constructing a cell tower at the fire station in Summit Cove. The county requires cell towers to allow for multiple carriers to attach in order to provide additional service.
“The coverage gaps in these areas represent very real compromises to public safety, inhibiting people’s ability to summon emergency services during times of crisis and impairing emergency responders’ ability to communicate with one another. This on-going lack of coverage also perpetuates unacceptably poor service to AT&T customers who live, work and vacation in Summit County,” the commissioners’ letter, written on July 30, stated. “This appears to be in direct conflict with your stated goal of working closely with communities throughout all of Colorado to ensure that our state is a leader in connectivity. Rural communities in Colorado need and deserve more reliable cellular service and we wish that AT&T could be a stronger partner in this regard.”