Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Terri Harber


Baker County Commissioners on Wednesday heard about the need for more stringent rules to make cell towers less visually obtrusive.

Baker City resident Wayne Wall, who serves on the city's Planning Commission, would like to see the area's viewshed protected from these objects.

"Cell towers blight our landscape at every turn," Wall said. "I daresay a growing metal forest of towers and their accompanying buildings is an adverse effect on this otherwise pristine view."

Wall and his wife, Linda, became interested in the topic after a cell tower went up on Spring Garden Hill above their home in east Baker City.

They weren't notified about the plan because they lived more than 100 feet away from the site. Without that knowledge they weren't able to complain to the city about the tower or to even ask that it be designed in a way that made it blend in with the surrounding landscape.

The county planning ordinance is in the process of being updated. Wayne Wall wants to see updates of chapter 740, which centers on wireless communications facilities. It became county code in April 2010.

andbull; Cell tower companies must design towers to look like trees. This would camouflage the metal towers themselves.

andbull; If the tower is visible from a freeway or highway then it must be camouflaged.

The city of Bend requires use of fake tree designs to hide towers.

Eugene encourages co-location of towers as well as placement on existing objects - such as buildings, power poles and even water towers - to minimize visual impact.

Further, Wall would like to get local government and residents involved in creating a land conservancy, such as the one in Boise, to protect the hills surrounding the city.

"Property owners can and should support willingly support this effort to minimize the visual impact of towers and buildings," he said.

The commissioners sounded willing to consider adding restrictions to the code. There could be differing views about what it would take to make these structures attractive and in harmony with their surroundings.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," said Commissioner Mark Bennett, who was the head of the planning department before being appointed to his commission seat. "What some people love, other people detest."

The planning department could work on it and the planning commissioners also could have a say.

"It is my strong belief that telecommunications companies will comply with whatever requirements are made of them in order to provide their customers with needed coverage," Wall said.

Health Department

The Baker County Health Department has been operating with minimal personnel while trying to provide required services.

They plan to hire two part-time employees: one home visit nurse and a dietitian for the Women, Infants and Children Program.

Health department employees provided statistics about some activities during the 2012-13 fiscal year, which ended June 30.

The department immunized 2,380 people. Slightly fewer than half of these, 1,188, obtained procedures paid for by the state while the rest were purchased by the county.

A partnership with St. Luke's EOMA is allowing immunizations to be coordinated with well-child exams at that clinic. Such partnerships are encouraged as Oregon adopts the new structures that come with the regional Coordinated Care Organizations.

There were 393 family planning clients during the 2012 calendar year, which is slightly below the five-year average of 422.

The department provided service to nearly half of the county's sexually active teens, 48.6 percent. This is a much higher percentage than the state's average service rate of 17 percent.

More of Baker County's family planning clients also were on Medicaid, Oregon CCare or Oregon Health Plan, 84 percent, than the state average of 56.9 percent.

And most of these family planning clients earn incomes that fall below 150 percent of the poverty level: 89.8 percent. Statewide the clientele at the economic level averages 91.1 percent.

The county's Women, Infants and Children program also has more clients this year than last year: 488. The program statewide has seen a decrease in demand, however.

Nursing Supervisor Alicia Hills attributes the high participation in the program to strong local outreach efforts that target families that might qualify and benefit from the services.

Other department activities include working with Baker City on its park smoking ban, updating the department's emergency policies, and streamlining billing and collections.

Commission Chairman Fred Warner Jr. also said the department appeared on track to stay within its budget this year.

Warner took over as head of the department late last year after the commissioners provided the department with an interdepartmental loan of $210,000 to cover a shortfall accumulated over a couple of years.

In other business, the commissioners:

andbull; Approved the new service contract with Timothy Bishop for an annual payout of $71,000 Baker County Tourism and Marketing during the next two fiscal years.

andbull; OK'd the new contract with Baker County Unlimited for operating the Visitors Center. It will receive $5,891.92 a month during the next two fiscal years.