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County delays action on new cell tower

Whether motorists will see one or two sets of blinking tower lights between Quail Creek and Remington Rds. on US-56 won’t be decided for another month.

Protracted debate over whether the county has authority to limit cell towers in proximity to each other on private property led commissioners to vote unanimously Monday to put the matter on hold until counselor Brad Jantz has time to research it.

Postponement came after commissioner Dave Crofoot’s motion to approve a new 385-foot-tall tower, 720 feet east of an almost identical one, died for lack of a second.

A permit for the proposed tower was endorsed 8-1 Dec. 2 by the county planning commission, which accepted developers’ arguments that a 2019 change in state law pre-empted the county from considering whether existing towers less than three miles away had capacity to accomplish what a proposed tower could.

Developer Harmoni Towers of Little Rock, Arkansas, wants to build the tower on property owned by a partnership of Marion grocers Greg and Mitch Carlson and lease it to AT&T for 20 years.

AT&T now rents space on the adjacent tower, owned by SBA Communications of Boca Raton, Florida.

SBA contends the new state law does not apply to towers on private property and that the new tower isn’t needed because SBA never failed to accommodate AT&T and has not increased its rates beyond what were agreed to 13 years ago.

Discussion initially focused on whether Harmoni’s tower would be needed.

“What is the benefit to the county and, you know, the safety and welfare of the citizens of the county, too?” commissioner Kent Becker asked.

Harmoni representative Glenda Cafer repeated her company’s assertion that local officials could not question companies’ not wanting to share towers.

“Like it or not, a lot of your power was taken away,” she said.

Becker persisted, however, saying: “AT&T has not served Marion County — vast parts of this county, where AT&T phones will not work. So you’re saying this will provide AT&T coverage for the whole county?”

Cafer rejected Becker’s assertion, reiterating that the only change would be that AT&T wants to have its own tower instead of using SBA’s.

“I’d like to see if someone comes into this county that the county gets served,” Becker said.

But, according to documents supplied to commissioners, AT&T’s coverage area would not change appreciably.

“So this is just two companies competing against each other?” commissioner Dave Crofoot asked. “This is free enterprise.”

SBA contends the right not to be forced to share towers applies only on public property, but Harmoni contends it applies everywhere.

“If that’s the case, then it’s done. There’s no other question,” commissioner David Mueller said. “And our staff has said it does. And that’s what the planning commission said. So unless the county commission says otherwise, this is done.

“We really need to answer that question first and then save a lot of time not answering other questions that may not apply.”

SBA persisted, however.

“In layman’s terms, this tower is completely unnecessary,” SBA attorney Patrick Edwards of Wichita said.

Even if the application is approved, he said, Harmoni should be required to provide a bond that would pay for removal of the tower after its useful life.

“You guys require the same reclamation bonds for commercial wind towers,” he said. “They don’t have a reclamation bond in this case. They’re arguing it doesn’t apply. It does apply.”

Last modified Dec. 23, 2021

 

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