After previously learning of pending litigation on the issue, County Commissioners on Monday approved placing a cellphone tower on Vernon Ferry Road.
At commission’s Aug. 7 meeting, commissioners did not vote on the request by American Tower and AT&T to place a 105-foot cellphone tower at the site after a lengthy public hearing where several ham radio operators and area residents opposed the move. Commission Chairman Ricky Wolfe on Monday apologized for the inaction.
“I apologize for that mistake, it’s my responsibility as chairman,” he told the people gathered in commission chambers. “In my six years here that is the first time that has ever happened that way.”
Despite opposition at previous meetings, the request complied with local ordinances and met federal requirement, said David Dyer of the Georgia Center for Local Government, who consults with the county on cellphone tower matters.
“My recommendation remains the same,” he said during Monday’s hearing. “I feel the application fully complied with ordinance and that the applicant agreed to any and all appropriate conditions for the ordinance.”
Opposition to the tower had come from a group of ham radio operators after resident Steve Mobley said the tower risks interfering with his equipment. Mobley’s system ties into other states and the SkyWarn weather system to help local emergency services be alerted to weather threats.
Dyer said two studies by certified engineers said there was no reason believe there would be any interference. He said that American Tower and AT&T also would be the ones obligated to clear any interference, but Mobley and other radio operators say FCC regulations puts the burden on him. Mobley said there is no way to know for sure if there will be interference and added that he felt the potential to shut down his operation was infringing his rights.
“What I really have problem with is the lack of regard for my rights,” Mobley said at the hearing. “It’s not just Skywarn, but my rights as an individual and a ham radio operator. … For anybody who is in support of this, what if that tower being there meant you possibly couldn’t watch TV? A ham radio, to me, is more important than someone’s right to watch TV, and they’re threatening my right at that location.”
Mobley said there are alternate locations in the area that would work just as well for AT&T to expand coverage in the area, but would not risk interference with his system.
Gary Sheets, emergency coordinator for the LaGrange Amateur Radio Club, also spoke Monday in support of Mobley.
“If I wanted to put up a tower in community that community does not like it, … I would not just ram something down someone’s throat,” Sheets said. “I don’t think it’s fair to tell him (if there is interference) that ‘you’re stuff’s all gone.’”
Ellen Smith, an attorney from Atlanta representing AT&T and American Tower, said the companies’ application “overwhelmingly complies” with all requirements. She also said the companies plan to place a “monopine” tower, which is designed to look like a pine tree, and requested the height go to 115 feet from the previous 105 feet to accommodate the branches. Dyer said 115 feet still fell within acceptable FAA requirements for the area.
Commissioners approved the measure 3-0 with commissioner Buck Davis abstaining from the vote, saying he had a relative that lived in the affected area.