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Council Rules Against GCI Tower Proposed For Unalaska Valley

City of Unalaska

GCI won’t be allowed to build a new cell phone tower in the Unalaska Valley. At least, not yet.

On Tuesday, the Unalaska City Council voted against the telecommunications company and its plan to construct a 65-foot tower on a hillside overlooking the Shaishnikoff Subdivision.

The unanimous decision came after a nearby property owner filed an appeal against the project, which had been approved by the Unalaska Planning Commission, 4-1.

Rufina Shaishnikoff protested the GCI tower, which would have sat on a commercially zoned plot in a mostly residential area.

Shaishnikoff said the tower would ruin the view for homes she’s developing nearby. She also said it would pose a threat to public safety, as a hazard that could fall in high winds and as a source of potentially dangerous emissions.

“My concern about that is very, very strong because of my own health issues, having fought cancer for 20, 30 years and survived three times," she said. "I’m concerned for other people as well.”

Six Unalaskans joined Shaishnikoff in testifying against the tower Tuesday night.

Travel Swangel said GCI should have considered more locations, even though he previously voted in favor of the project as a member of the planning commission.

“Looking at things afterward and talking with people, I feel like we were kind of duped as far as the options presented to us,” said Swangel.

GCI officials argued the site is the best option for upgrading the island’s wireless network from 2G to 4G. They said the tower would be safe, while improving internet and phone access in the residential areas that need it most.

Although the council’s decision went against GCI, Mayor Frank Kelty said Unalaska needs better wireless service. He encouraged the telecom company to find an alternative location for the tower.

“We hope that you’ll continue to take a look at other areas in the community," Kelty told GCI officials who joined the meeting over the phone. "It seems like all the providers are having problems with our cell service, so we hope you’ll look around.”

Meanwhile, the council debated tacking on a smaller construction project to the $39 million city dock renovationapproved last month. 

For another $3.7 million, Turnagain Marine Construction would also flatten 83,000 square feet of land next to the dock.

Several councilors said the city should look for other contractors who can do the job for less, but Councilor Roger Rowland argued no one will beat Turnagain’s bid because the company is already mobilizing for major construction.

“This is a project that pays for itself," said Rowland. "That flat land will be leased, and I think this is the cheapest price we’re going to get."

The City Council will continue discussing construction options at their next meeting April 25.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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