Dialing up Iowa Hill

Rural residents finally get phone service
By: Gloria Beverage, Colfax Record Editor
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Fifty-two Iowa Hill residents finally got phone service last week. Residents of this remote mountain community, who use generators for electricity, have had to depend either on a farm line stretched through the trees or cell phones to communicate. “If it rained or snowed, it would knock the farm line down. Or if a coyote pooped on it, it went out,” said 71-year-old Cathy Morgan, who was one of the residents who fought to get phone service to the historic mining community. Others used cell phones, but getting a signal was often iffy. Six years ago, the phone committee members applied for and received a $2.5 million grant from the Public Utilities Commission to bring phone service up the hill, Morgan said. Initially, they were negotiating with other phone companies, but none would accept the challenge saying the project costs were prohibitive, she added. At the end of 2006, Sebastian, the phone company serving Foresthill since 1946, accepted the challenge. Engineering work began in January 2007, but actual construction didn’t start until 2008. “We were waiting on permits from the Bureau of Land Management and Placer County to install the towers,” said plant manager Stan Ekedahl, who oversaw the project. “The lines are completely underground at the community’s request.” While the grant covered the majority of the costs, Ekedahl said the phone company contributed an additional $50,000 to complete the project. And there was a considerable donation of time from Scott and Roxanne Dondninger, owners of The Antenna Company in Foresthill. “They gave hundreds of hours to help us figure out how to get the microwave towers up,” he said. When the initial survey for the grant was done, nearly 200 residents expressed an interest in having phone service. However, Sebastian only signed up 52 customers. Dependable phone service is vital, explained Morgan, who had worked at Iowa Hill School for the most of the 25 years she has lived up the hill. “Five years ago I lost my husband because I couldn’t get out on the cell phone,” she said. “I had to go to the back of my property to call 9-1-1 and then got put on hold.” By the time the paramedics arrived, Morgan’s husband had died. When Sebastian started signing up customers, Morgan was one of the first to put her name on the list. Barclay, who moved to Iowa Hill in 1989, is also glad to have reliable phone service. The first resident to get a dial tone last week, 76-year-old Barclay said she had to stand either in her kitchen or on the front porch in order to get a signal on her cell phone. Barclay said she had several calls from family and friends in the first couple of days, but it’s been quiet since then.