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Feds say county misread tower rules

July 18, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

When the Washington County Permits Department recently allowed the construction of a 70-foot amateur radio tower in a residential Halfway neighborhood, it did so under the belief that a federal regulation blocked local governments from denying such a structure.

But Federal Communications Commission Senior Program Analyst William Cross said Thursday that that was not the intention of the regulation.

He said that under federal rules, local jurisdictions have the power to decide the fate of amateur radio towers as long as they make a "reasonable accommodation" for the erection of such a tower.

For example, he said, local governments could not deny a tower just because they don't like the location, but they could make decisions based on whether they felt a tower would be unsafe at a particular location or would be in a flood plain.

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"It does not really mean that amateur radio operators get anything they want," Cross said. "That's not the case at all."

"Whether or not it's allowed is decided by the local regulations," he said. "We have not ordered county governments to say you can't regulate these things."

Former Permits Director Paul Prodonovich said Thursday that when he issued the building permit he interpreted federal regulations on amateur radio towers to mean local jurisdictions had no say in the matter, as long as the towers were to be used for residential purposes only.

Prodonovich said he based his decision on information he received from the tower's applicant, Rudgyard H. Forrester.

"The way it looks is if all the neighbors wanted to do it they could," Deputy Director of Permits Randy Dick said this week.

Prodonovich said he was under the impression that the FCC wanted amateur radio towers to be built in case other types of communication fails during emergencies.

Forrester was issued the permit in May to build the tower at 11045 Lincoln Ave., the site of Butler and Byrd Dental Associates.

A Nov. 1, 2002 county document pertaining to requirements for erecting a tower states, "If it is for a commercial communication tower it would require a special exception, however (if) it is strictly used by ham operators then the tower would be exempt from zoning due to federal regulations."

County Attorney Richard Douglas said Thursday that statement is an over-simplification of the federal rules. He said the regulations do allow for some local authority.

He also said the county's zoning ordinance permits such a tower as long as it's used for residential purposes only.

Forrester said Thursday the county did not have the authority to deny the tower based on the federal regulations, but that the county could have requested that he build a tower with a lower height.

He said the tower will be used to help him communicate with missionaries in South America.

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