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Web exclusive, August 12, 2010
Brooksville to consider cell tower moratorium

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by Jonathan Thomas

The Brooksville Board of Selectmen decided on August 5 to schedule a public hearing for Thursday, August 19 on an ordinance that would impose a six-month moratorium on commercial communication towers. The hearing will be at 7 p.m. at the Public Service Building (Town House). The hearing agenda also includes discussion of articles regarding a communication tower ordinance and an industrial wind and turbine ordinance.

According to Chairman John Gray, the hearing would be followed by a special town meeting referendum on Monday, August 30. The hours of the referendum election have not yet been set. Gray said that since the voting will be by secret ballot, absentee voting would be possible.

The exact wording of the referendum questions and the text of the moratorium ordinance were not available at press time.

Cell tower already proposed

The action by the selectmen to schedule the hearing and referendum followed from their August 4 meeting. That meeting was attended by approximately 12 citizens, who came after learning that Selectman Richard Bakeman had entered into an agreement to have a 190-foot cell tower erected on his property not far from the athletic field on the Town House Road. (See August 5 issue of The Weekly Packet.)

The town does not have an ordinance regulating the placement or other issues regarding these towers. The issue briefly came before the planning board on August 3 when Blaine Hopkins, representing Global Tower Partners, requested a driveway entrance permit onto land owned by Basil Ladd. (The entrance road to the proposed tower site on Bakeman’s land would cross Ladd’s property, which is across the street from the ball field.)

Because Hopkins did not yet have written authorization from Ladd, planning board chairman Don Condon declined to accept the application. Hopkins said he would return to the planning board at its next monthly meeting unless he was precluded from doing so by the moratorium, which was already a matter of public discussion.

In a telephone interview on August 9, Hopkins said his client, GTP, is anxious to proceed with the tower, and would prefer not to be delayed by a moratorium. He said that AT&T Cellular would be the “anchor tenant” on the tower, and that it would be designed to hold the antennas for three other cell phone companies.

Hopkins noted that these companies not only provide cellular telephone service, but also wireless broadband Internet service.

In talking about the benefits the tower would provide, he also cited a recent news story in which the GPS capability of cell phones facilitated the rescue of capsized canoeists.

When asked about the hazard of radio frequency waves from such towers, Hopkins called the issue a “red herring” and said that the energy level at the property line would be one-10th of 1 percent of FCC standards.

Hopkins said the distance from the center of the triangular base of the tower to the nearest boundary of the Ladd property would be 158 feet, which is less than the 190-foot height of the tower. (The distance to the near edge of the right-of-way of the Town House Road—opposite from the athletic field—is 226 feet.)

When asked about placing a tower closer to a boundary line than the tower height, Hopkins said that such setbacks are not uncommon. He said that tower companies rely on the fact that the tower system plans are designed and “stamped” by three professional engineers. One engineer certifies that the soils beneath the tower have adequate bearing capacity. Another engineer certifies the tower’s foundation. A third engineer approves the structural design of the tower itself.

Finally, said Hopkins, the tower structure itself has a “fail-safe” design feature. He said that most of the weight and wind resistance of a tower is near the top. He said that in severe conditions such as a hurricane, a tower is designed to fold over on itself at a point about two-thirds of the way up the tower. Hopkins recalled being in Florida after a hurricane and seeing several towers with the tops folded over and hanging by their cables from the remaining base sections of the towers.