Not everyone is excited about improving cellphone service in northwest Montana. Plans for a cell tower outside Hot Springs has a group of residents concerned that it will ruin the character of their town, and they feel that they're being kept out of the planning process.
"We don't know what's going on and we want to be part of the dialogue," resident Susan Hagen says. "We have a vision for this place and we don't want to change our way of life."
Hot Springs, with a population of roughly 550, is currently one of the few communities in the nation without cellphone service or a tower, a fact some residents take pride in. They argue that the tower's radiation is unhealthy and the rest of the world is too wired. They consider living in a community without cellphones a privilege.
Just as troubling as the proposed tower, however, is how the community learned about it. Jeff Miller says he found out via an internet search, not a public meeting. "There's no paper trail," Miller says. "It shouldn't just be left for private people to decideand not one elected official."
Sanders County doesn't currently have zoning ordinances that require public discussion about cellphone towers. Additionally, the tower is slated for land County Commissioner Glen Magera owned before being elected.
Plans for the tower started when AT&T leased private property from Magera in 2011 and again in 2012. Magera says he was paid to hold the property but won't receive lease payments until construction begins. He did not say how much money he has received or will receive.
Records show AT&T cleared the tower with the necessary federal agencies, and AT&T Public Affairs spokesperson Timi Aguire says a building permit for the site has been approved by the state of Montana.
Magera defends his part in the tower's construction and says he did nothing wrong.
"I'm not big on technology of any kind. I hate computers," says Magera. "But if I turn them down they'll find another spot and come anyway."