The Summit Lake area of the Seward Highway is a cell desert. Like much of Turnagain Pass, it’s also an area that’s prone to accidents, particularly in the winter.
“And so right now what happens is people might get in a horrible car accident, and then they have to rely on people who drive by to see the accident and then get to a location where there is cell service and call 911," said Michelle Weston, fire chief at Girdwood Fire and Rescue.
“At that point, they might be 20 minutes or a half hour away from the accident scene," she said. "So the information isn’t always that accurate. And the patient status isn’t always that accurate.”
Vertical Bridge Development, a Florida-based company with several cell towers on the Kenai Peninsula, is proposing building a tower on the west side of Summit Lake. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will consider a lease agreement with the company at its Tuesday meeting.
Weston hadn’t heard of the proposal but says it would be a game changer to have service there. Along with Soldotna Sen. Peter Micciche, she’s been advocating bringing cell service to the area for a while.
There are call boxes, including one at the Silvertip Station, off the Hope turnoff. But the area is largely a dead zone.
Borough Land Management Officer Marcus Mueller said Vertical Bridge approached the borough last year about finding a site in the Summit Lake area.
“We were excited to see they were looking in that area and we were able to match what their interests are with some property that the borough owns," he said.
The land is a site to the west of Summit Lake that’s 2,187 square feet. A map of the lease site includes a 150-foot “scenic buffer” between the site and the road.
The borough’s planning commission already approved the lease agreement by a unanimous vote. Now, it’s up to the borough assembly to give Vertical Bridge the go-ahead.
“If the assembly approves the lease then the land office of the borough will work with Vertical Bridge to finalize that agreement, which would then allow Vertical Bridge to go in and start working with their project development," Mueller said. "I’m sure they have both some additional site investigations to do, as well as they might have some regulatory and licensing processes to go through.”
Vertical Bridge is the largest private owner of cell communications infrastructure in the country, according to the company’s website. Its towers on the peninsula include four in Cooper Landing and two at Tern Lake.
This would be its first tower at Summit Lake. Weston said having cell service in the area would make it possible for first responders to get reliable information about accidents in real time.
“You can imagine how frustrating it is when there’s a blizzard and we’re dispatched to something and we drive for an hour and there’s nothing there," she said. "That’s taking resources away from other people in other locations that might need it and so it’s very important that we have accurate dispatching information and having cell communication will do this. And it’s not just for car accidents. It’s also for backcountry rescue situations.”
It’s not clear which carriers Vertical Bridge is working with for the pending site. A representative from the company could not be reached before air time.