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Palm Coast Monday, Sep. 14, 2015 3 years ago

County approves one radio tower, denies others

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Three proposed towers would have formed a triangulation system.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Flagler County is not getting a new emergency radio tower system — at least, not with the three communication towers county staff proposed to the County Commission.

After hearing from residents concerned that the proposed towers — each about the height of two Olympic-size pools stacked end on end — would mar the scenery and could harm birds, commissioners denied a request for one 320-foot lattice communication tower on John Anderson Highway, approved a 345-foot tower in Espanola, and rejected a 321-foot tower at Cody’s Corner in Bunnell. Part of the request for the Cody’s Corner tower was tabled, so it could return to the commission again.

The proposed three-tower system would have placed county emergency services antennas at the top of three towers built and operated by a private company, NexTower, which could then rent out space on the lower parts of the towers — a plan that had the backing of the county’s Public Safety Emergency Manager, Kevin Guthrie, who told commissioners that the current system has dead zones where first responders have no reception.

But the proposed system would have relied on triangulation, so the tower the commission approved in Espanola is of limited use without the other two.

“Espanola’s moot, because we've killed the triangulation of this system, and we’re back to square one,” Commissioner Nate McLaughlin said. “We fall short on serving the public safety factor, twice.”

Flagler County’s current emergency radio system relies on five shorter towers, Guthrie told commissioners. Dispatchers transmit from the Emergency Operations Center in Bunnell, and the microwave signal from the EOC is sent to the Sheriff’s Office station, and from there to the towers, where message are broadcast to responders.

"We have created all these greenways on both ends of our county, and then we’re going to trash it with this tower. ... I think this one is very ill advised.”

— Barbara Revels, Flagler County Commissioner

But there are gaps in the coverage, and interference from “ground clutter” like buildings and vegetatoin, so emergency responders on the ground with portable radios can’t always use them.

With the proposed, taller towers, Guthrie said, “if I raise the antenna, I raise the line of sight, decreasing the building clutter that's in between — therefore I increase the reception and the transmission.”

The county’s leases on its current towers is running short, and it would cost about $4.6 million less in the long term to go with the new towers than renew leases on the current ones, Guthrie said.

But locals raised concerns about the towers’ impact, particularly on the impact of the John Anderson tower on the views in the Bulow Creek area.

“If you plant a tower right where the creek comes to where you see the trees in the background, you're going see a horrendous site,” said Bulow Parks Historic Alliance President James Fiske.

Another local resident called the proposed tower “a monstrosity.”

Commissioner Barbara Revels also had concerns about the tower's impact on the scenery.

“I agree with the people that have contacted me on the thought process that the county has invested so much money in pristine sites,” she sad. “We have Bulow Creek, which is an outstanding Florida water, and a gorgeous, gorgeous location. We have created all these greenways on both ends of our county, and then we’re going to trash it with this tower. I know that no one likes them in their backyard and it’s very hard to place them, and to please everybody you never will. But I think this one is very ill advised, and I think there’s more work we could do on this particular location, and I’m not going to support this.”

Commissioner Frank Meeker said the county would end up having the same discussion at any site in that area.

“What I’ve heard, for two and a half hours, I’ve seen the perfect discussion of the ‘N.I.M.B.Y.’ situation: the not-in-my-back-yard discussion,” he said. “I know I’ve got holes in coverage based on the map … and I’m risking putting my emergency services personnel at risk, and I’m limiting and restricting our ability to provide emergency services to 100,000 people, and I get that. I actually think that it’s not going to matter where we put a tower in this area, if we vote against this one, and we say, ‘Well, let’s look at a site on the other side of Bulow Creek,’  and it’s going to be 320 feet or whatever, I’m going to have people out of the woodwork on that one.”

The commission voted 3-2, with commissioners McLaughlin and Meeker dissenting, to reject the John Anderson tower.

The commission unanimously approved a 345-foot tower in Espanola, then approved a motion to deny a variance on height and spacing restrctoins — also rejected by the county’s planning board — that would have allowed a 320-foot tower at Cody’s Corner.

NexTower’s request to appeal the planning board’s decision on the Cody’s Corner tower was tabled, so NexTower could amend its request and return to the county again in the future. 

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