Spearfish approves 100+ ft. telecommunications tower expansion

Lookout Mountain in Spearfish will soon sport a brand new 104-foot monopole telecommunications tower, equipped with more provider options and 5G broadcasting capability. Pioneer photo by Alex Portal

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SPEARFISH — The existing 58-foot tower currently occupying the summit of Lookout Mountain will soon be replaced with a 104-foot monopole to accommodate a wider range of telecommunications.

The current tower, which is visible from downtown, is owned and operated by Riverfront Broadcasting, of Yankton, and sits on a 122 square foot plot of land leased by the city at the rate of $4,393 annually.

“It contains Riverfront Broadcasting’s radio equipment, as well as AT&T’s wireless panel antenna mounted on that tower,” Jayna Watson, Spearfish city planner explained at Monday’s city council meeting.

In August 2020, the council discussed a proposal by Riverfront to change its lease terms in order to expand its tower height and footprint to a 100-foot tower with a 1,100 square foot surface area. That proposal was denied; however, council charged city staff to continue working with Riverfront to renegotiate the terms of the ground lease with limitations on tower height and attachments.

On Monday a new proposal was discussed in which Clearview Tower Company, out of Edison, N.J., would assume the ground lease from Riverfront with a net increase in payment to the city of $15,608; remove the existing lattice tower, and construct a 100-foot monopole in it’s place. The upgrade would only require the ground lease to expand to 800 square feet, and allow for Riverfront’s radio equipment to remain as well as up to three wireless 5G communication panels, one of which would be reserved for AT&T. The Federal Aviation Administration does not require any tower under 200 feet be marked, but the proposal an LED alert light be installed, which will bring the total height of the tower to 104 feet.

Additionally the expanded ground lease would require the existing trail to be moved around the new area.

On March 18, the Spearfish Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Advisory Board voted not to support the proposal, siting aesthetic and conservation concerns.

“Number one was the visual impact, they felt, to the skyline created by the increased height of the tower, number two – inconsistent with the allowables associated with conservation,” Watson explained to the council on Monday.

Watson also informed council that as per an agreement made by past administration in 2015, AT&T does hold an option to build their own tower on Lookout Mountain.

“AT&T (could) build their own tower within their own footprint, there’s no terms, they would simply have to comply with the city’s wireless ordinance and they too would have to go through a use permit,” she said.

“I think the city would have a lot more control on what our proposal is as to what AT&T has with their existing lease with the city,” said Bill Ray, project manager for Clearview Tower via Zoom. “Our goal also is to open tower up to 911, or any law enforcement.”

The council voted to approve the preliminary lease terms and allow the planning and zoning commission to move forward with the conditional use permitting process, with only Councilman Marty Clark opposed.

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