JOSHUA TREE — Frontier Communications and county leaders met with locals Thursday night to address their concerns about trenching and placement of a wireless internet tower in Copper Mountain Mesa.
A crew contracted with Frontier started digging trenches in the Copper Mountain Mesa community last month for a wireless internet tower. Due to a misstep in the permitting process, the public was not notified of the construction.
This project is part of Frontier Communication’s 2019 Connect America initiative, a federally funded drive to bring broadband into rural communities. The Joshua Tree site is one of eight in San Bernardino County that are in different stages of completion.
Unlike the other seven sites, the Joshua Tree site falls under San Bernardino County Special Districts and therefore had a different permitting process.
When Frontier submitted its plans to Special Districts, county staff believed Frontier was putting in a regular telephone pole and approved the construction, said Luther Snoke, interim director of the department.
However, a regular telephone pole does not require trenching like a wireless system does and when digging began, dozens of concerned citizens began calling the Special Districts office and Frontier.
“You’re destroying my property, my home, and nothing was ever said to us,” said one resident, Steve Tuttle.
Others said the contractors were working on their property without permission and leaving trash. They also said the crew killed dozens of creosote plants.
“I can’t go and replant vegetation that’s been destroyed,” Tuttle said.
Frontier said they’ve stopped construction on the site and will attempt to rectify the situation.
“We’ve agreed to stop, not do anything any further until the county is comfortable that we have a plan and that the community is comfortable that we have a whole plan,” said Bill D’agostino, director of wireless engineering at Frontier Communications.
“We’ve invested a lot of money in that site but I’m here to tell you that we’re not going to push the issue of having that site in that location.”
Tuttle, however, said construction on the site had not stopped and in fact, he saw a crew digging that very day.
D’agostino said if there was still construction, he was unaware of it and would make sure it stopped immediately.
The owner of the Dhamma Dena Mediation Center, Arinna Weisman, urged Frontier to keep that promise. The wireless pole borders the meditation center and Weisman said there was actually construction for the project on her property.
Weisman was one of the first to contact the county about the construction and she even hired a lawyer. At the meeting, she said she hoped there would be a process for community outreach with updates on the project.
“I shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer and (make) really probably 50 phone calls to try to access information about what’s going on,” she said.
The community should be contacted to give insight into possible new locations for the pole, Weisman argued.
Frontier Communications has agreed to consider moving the location of the pole and is looking to move it onto Copper Mountain Mesa Association property.
Frontier originally wanted to move the pole to outside of the old volunteer fire station, but Weisman said that would still border her property. Mary Scott Tuttle said the Copper Mountain Mesa Association owns that property and three other neighboring parcels.
“We have a lot of nothing around us and it would be far away from the center,” she said.
She urged Frontier to speak to the association’s president, Kip Fjeld.
Moving forward, D’agostino said the company will have more meetings with the county to produce more possible locations. Updates on the project will be distributed through the Morongo Basin Municipal Advisory Council’s email list.