June 10, 2009 — Proposed rules to govern the siting of telecommunication towers could hamper future wireless service in the U.S. Virgin Islands, speakers told a public hearing Wednesday night.
The Department of Planning and Natural Resources held the hearing to draw public input on the proposed regulations. The audience was primarily made up of two groups: concerned residents, and the lawyers representing various telecommunications companies, and both sides were worried about the proposed rules and regulations.
Gordon Ackley, owner of Tower Top Investments, has built more than 25 towers in the territory and told DPNR members that the proposed $2.5 million liability insurance is probably unattainable for local companies. He also said he has never had a tower fall and called the proposed distance requirements excessive.
Residents wanted to know what specifically would be done to protect their rights as property owners and prevent towers from being constructed practically on top of them.
"The Earth Change permit gives them the right to build a tower directly in front of my house. The chance of my being able to sell my property is destroyed! said Francesca Greeves, whose property is adjacent to a proposed tower by Insight Towers.
When we started to draft the rules and regulations, said Dawn Henry, legal program supervisor for the Division of Environmental Protection, residential areas were our main concern.
With a six-month moratorium on construction of new communications towers set to expire this month (See Tower Spat Prompts DPNR To Freeze Some Projects,) DPNR hopes to establish standards and requirements that would meet the needs of telecommunications companies and local residents, Henry said.
The document includes required criteria for telecommunications facilities prior to issuance of a building permit and strict guidelines regarding application requirements.
Criteria includes limits on structure elevation and distance from property lines, along with noise restriction, landscaping requirements, and precautions to minimize the impact of the facility on wildlife habitat. (See Public Hearings Will Look at Rules for Communications Towers.)
Before a bnuilding permit can be issued, a Telecommunications Facilities application will be required along with the following documents: a clearance letter from the State Historic Preservation office, a clearance letter from the Division of Fish and Wildlife, a site plan drawn to scale, an Earth Change or Coastal Zone Management permit, a description of the facility including certification by a licensed structural engineer regarding the structural integrity of the facility and evidence of compliance with FCC standards, siting needs and sharing capabilities, a maintenance plan, a National Environmental Policy Act report, Federal Aviation Administration approval, a Federal Communications Commission compliance letter, and a construction certification report.
We fear that the U.S. Virgin Islands may be adopting regulations that will prevent future wireless deployment at a time when residents of the territory and visitors need it for their public safety, economic, and social benefits, said Michael D. Saperstein, a Washington D.C.-based attorney who spoke on behalf of the Personal Communications Industry Association, the Wireless Infrastructure Association, and its membership, including AT&T and Sprint.
Saperstein emphasized the importance of collocation, the process of sitting wireless antennas on existing infrastructure, offering suggestions such as putting antennas on sugar mills. He also encouraged DPNR and members of the public to participate in a workshop with PCIA to develop balanced wireless regulations that would meet the specific needs of the Virgin Islands.
Before closing, Henry asked all who had suggestions or concerns regarding the proposed rules and regulations to submit them in writing to DPNR. DPNR intends to further tailor the document based on the feedback they received at the hearing.