A proposal to put a cell phone tower on Vernon Ferry Road failed after about two months of residents sparring with company representatives over the placement of the tower.
Residents in the immediate area of 313 Vernon Ferry Road, where a 105-foot cell phone tower was proposed to be placed for AT&T service, spoke out at against the tower at three public hearings, which they felt would be an eyesore. A group of ham radio operators also spoke up against the tower, which they said could interfere with vital operations.
Steve Mobley, who lives near the proposed tower, said the cell phone signal could interfere with his ham radio operations. Mobley’s system is linked into weather warning systems and the National Weather Service in Peachtree City and other systems as far as Tennessee, Florida and Savannah. Amateur radio operators in the area are a vital part in helping get information out on severe weather, he said.
Former West Point police chief David Kerr, also a ham radio operator, said that the services amateur radio operators provide is vital to public safety.
“They devote many many hours on education and practice exercises to step in when necessary,” Kerr said. “They maintain individual equipment, and when linked together, assist not only locally, but regionally and statewide.”
David Dyar, a consultant for the county on cell phone tower matters, said his analysis didn’t show a risk of interference with the ham radio operations. He said he gave information to two different engineers, who evaluated it and didn’t anticipate that the signals from Mobley’s equipment would interfere with the cell phone signals.
Mobley said factors like rusted metal in the area, like pasture line in the location where the tower was proposed, could increase the risk of interference, and that variances in the frequencies used for his equipment could also cause interference at certain times. According to FCC regulations, if his equipment caused interference, it would fall on him to fix the problem, Mobley said. Also, if other cell phone companies later add their equipment to the tower, those could cause interference as well, he added.
Kim Bucciero, representing AT&T, said that the company would work with Mobley to clear up any interference problems. Mobley and other operators expressed doubt that the company would be accessible and receptive if the issue did arise.
Mobley said there are better locations for the tower in the area AT&T needs to cover that also would not interfere with his equipment. Radio operators who spoke at the public hearing couldn’t put a percentage on the chance that the signals would interfere, but operator Gary Pike compared it to playing Russian roulette.
After an about two-hour hearing, commissioners were asked to vote on the matter. Commissioner Morris Jones made a motion to continue the request, which would be the second time the decision was pushed back, to see if AT&T could find an alternate site. No one seconded the motion.
Chairman Ricky Wolfe asked commissioners to vote for or against the request. Jones voted against it, but commissioners Buck Davis, Richard English and Ken Smith didn’t vote.
Wolfe again asked for a vote in favor or against. No commissioners voted.
County attorney Jerry Willis said that with no vote, the request dies and is not approved. Commissioners then approved another cell phone tower placements from AT&T, a 195-foot tower on Whitfield Road with no public opposition, and voted to continue a proposal for a 175-foot tower at 6042 Hogansville Road, also with no public opposition, at the request of AT&T representatives that wanted to re-evaluate the height of the tower.
In other matters Tuesday, commissioners:
•Affirmed the tax millage rate for the Board of Education and Downtown Development Authority, set at 18.85 and 4 mills respectively.
•Approved refinancing bonds for the county and city of LaGrange for the Callaway South Industrial Park project that is expected to lower cost to county and city in interest charges by more than $1 million over four years.
•Approved using a 2012 CHIP housing improvement grant for $200,000. The grant will be used for rehabilitation of homes by D.A.S.H., for which Wolfe is executive director and recused himself from the discussion and decision.
•Approved allowing state court to replace an outgoing public defender. The commission had to approve allowing the court to seek a replacement because the county currently is in a hiring freeze.