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Geological cell tower proposed at Crater Lake

CRATER LAKE — Oregon's only national park may soon have a wireless cell tower that will help scientists keep tabs on what they describe as a potentially active volcano.

The U.S. Geological Survey wants to build a 60-foot tall tower to allow the agency to transmit information from sensitive instruments watching over the sleeping geological giant that blew its top some 7,700 years ago.

The tower would not be visible from the rim of the caldera or the historic Crater Lake Lodge, observed Benjamin Pauk, spokesman for the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory based in Vancouver, Wash. The center studies volcanoes in the Cascade range from Lassen Peak in Northern California to southern Canada.

"It will give us real-time data and it won't disrupt the view," concluded park spokeswoman Marsha McCabe. The park service has been working closely with the USGS on the proposed project, she noted.

The proposal calls for it to be built about 50 feet west of the nonhistoric Xanterra employee bunkhouse south of the caldera in the Rim Village area, officials said.

The tower would be painted brown to blend in with surrounding trees.

In a draft environmental assessment of the proposal released Thursday, the agency noted the tower would support a 3-foot-diameter, enclosed, fiberglass antenna that would transmit the monitoring data out of the park.

The current infrastructure in the park can't support the additional requirement needed to transmit the volcanic monitoring data to the observatory, Pauk said. As a result, the observatory's scientists must travel to the park up to four times a year to physically pick up the information, according to the draft EA.

The new tower would enable the observatory's scientists to remotely monitor, analyze and interpret all seismic activity within the park on a 24-hour basis, he explained.

Describing Crater Lake as a potentially active volcano, USGS officials said volcanoes often provide warning signs, such as swarms of small earthquakes, release of volcanic gases and swelling of the volcanic edifice before erupting. The subtle warnings can happen days before an eruption, they noted.

The USGS has three seismic and four continuously recording GPS stations in the park, all of which must be downloaded manually every three to six months, officials said.

At the top of the proposed pole would be a 4-foot, round, panel digital antenna weighing no more than 85 pounds. A coax cable would be attached to the antenna and enclosed within the hollow tower.

Crater Lake is in the collapsed caldera of Mount Mazama. The national park was created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902.

The public has until Aug. 28 to comment on the proposal.

The environmental assessment is available at www.nps.gov/crla/parkmgmt/planning.htm and at the Medford main library, 205 S. Central Ave.

Comments can be posted at the planning, environment and public comment website at http://parkplanning.nps.gov.

Written comments may be sent to Benjamin Pauk, U.S. Geological Survey, Cascades Volcano Observatory, 1300 SE Cardinal Court, Suite 100, Vancouver, WA 98683.

Paul Fattig is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.