New cell towers could soon be on the horizon—both literally and figuratively—if a bill sent on to the full Legislature Monday by a unanimous committee vote becomes law.
The bill, which has numerous sponsors, creates new application and public hearing procedures and gives the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) regulatory and enforcement powers over tower construction.
The bill would give DPNR broad regulatory authority to set height, setback and other requirements, as well as enforcement powers and the ability to impose fines of $1,500 per day on violators. Along with creating an application procedure, it requires DPNR to rule on tower applications within 90 days, or within 150 days if a hearing is required.
The moratorium on towers was prompted by concerns over the potential for the unregulated proliferation of towers in the territory, especially on St. Thomas, senators and testifiers said during initial committee hearings on the proposed new tower application procedures.
Residents and government officials were also concerned about whether tower owners would be liable for—and able to pay for—any damage caused by a tower felled during a storm.
Since DPNR oversees building permits and codes, the bill’s sponsor’s relied on the department’s in-house expertise in the subject matter, and "the bill was essentially written by DPNR," said Sen. Louis Hill, one of its sponsors.
Sen. Sammuel Sanes said he supported the measure but would like to see some amendment "to make sure towers are more aesthetically pleasing."
Voting to send the bill out of the Rules and Judiciary Committee to the full Legislature for a final vote were: Sanes, Sens. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Ronald Russell, Patrick Sprauve, Celestino White and Usie Richards. Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe was absent.
The committee also forwarded a bill clarifying and amending an existing law to increase availability of automatic external defibrillators (AEDs). Currently the law mandates government agencies to acquire and maintain such AEDs.
The new bill, sponsored by Sanes, mandates that each public high school with competitive athletics must maintain an AED and have a trained staff member on hand during large events. In the private arena, gyms and health clubs with at least 75 members would have to acquire and maintain an AED, too.
Rules approved the measure unanimously, sending it on for a final vote before the full Legislature.