Cell phone service could be coming to Lutak. On Tuesday, the Haines Borough Assembly introduced an ordinance that would authorize the lease of property behind Lutak Dock to Vertical Bridge LLC for construction of a communications tower.

“It’ll be a 5G tower, providing service from Lutak Spur (Road), south,” planning commission chair Diana Lapham said. “It’s trying to bring us into the 21st century. That area doesn’t have cell coverage. Even for people that live on the beach toward town, it’s really spotty. This will increase their coverage.”

Five-gigabyte networks have capacity for higher speed downloads than 4G and 3G networks and can accomodate more devices at once. Lapham said she’s not sure whether a 5G tower at Lutak will make a difference on days when large cruise ships visit town. During these visits, residents often experience internet connectivity issues due to the sudden population increase.

The Lutak neighborhood was without power until relatively recently. AP&T Haines power operations manager Lance Caldwell said he believes power came to the neighborhood around 2008 or 2009.

The cell tower proposal has generated mixed responses from Lutak residents. It comes as good news for Jim Wilson and Michael Stark.

“I think it’s great,” Wilson said. “For a long time we Lutakians were urging power. My cell phone, I only bought it for travel purposes because it never worked out here. I think it’s just fine.”

Another resident expressed concern about the proposal.

“I don’t care for 5G towers here because of the effects,” Judy Durand said, adding that the benefit of cell service doesn’t outweigh her concern. 

Durand said she did fine without cell service even when Lutak was without power, cut off from the rest of town during the early December storms.

“We knew where we were, and we were able to get a message out to family. There was cell service down around the bend from us, so we did use someone’s cell phone to get the message out,” she said.

Worldwide, the rollout of 5G has raised questions about potential negative health effects. Like other cell tower technologies, 5G relies on radio wave signals, which cause tissue heating when they interact with the human body. The technology relies on higher frequency waves than previous networks. 

The World Health Organization said it doesn’t anticipate public health consequences from 5G as exposure levels will remain low. There isn’t much data yet that looks specifically at the effects of 5G.

“No adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies. Health-related conclusions are drawn from studies performed across the entire radio spectrum but, so far, only a few studies have been carried out at the frequencies to be used by 5G,” according to the World Health Organization website.

Vertical Bridge referred questions about the project to the Haines Borough. A document in Tuesday’s assembly packet says Verizon Wireless will be the initial sub-lessee for the tower, but Vertical Bridge is hoping to work out agreements with other carriers.

Tower construction would begin within one year of borough approval, according to the document.

The ordinance’s first public hearing is June 8.