Williamsport delays decision on allowing cell antenna on water tower

September 16, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

WILLIAMSPORT -- At first glance, U.S. Cellular's proposal to the town of Williamsport sounds like a no-brainer, the town's attorney said.

The company would pay Williamsport $1,750 per month to attach cellular antennas to the town's existing water tower and avoid having to build a cellular tower in town.

But, if town officials are not careful, the agreement could make it hard to turn down similar requests from other cellular companies or, worse, land the town in the middle of an expensive legal battle as competitors attempt to move in, town attorney Edward Kuczynski said.

"It looks like it's a cash cow," Kuczynski said. "If they were the only cellular company in the world, it might be, but they're not. There's a great deal of competition for these sites. You have to look at it in the context of what could happen."


Upon Kuczynski's advice, the Williamsport Town Council decided last week to postpone a decision on U.S. Cellular's request until the company has made further revisions to its proposed lease for the site.

One of the biggest problems with the latest draft of the lease, received by the town July 1, is that it requires the town to ensure that other tenants' use of the tower will not interfere with the operations of U.S. Cellular, Kuczynski said.

"Essentially, this provision is U.S. Cellular's back-door way of making this Agreement exclusive rather than non-exclusive," Kuczynski wrote in a review of the lease he submitted to the Town Council.

Another factor to consider is the aesthetic implications, Kuczynski said. Washington County already has communications equipment attached to the tower, Kuczynski said. U.S. Cellular wants to attach up to 12 antennas to the tower and lease ground space for a 12 foot-by-20 foot equipment shelter near the base of the tower, according to the draft lease.

If other cellular companies seek similar agreements, the town will be faced with other buildings, tenants and affixations, and might eventually need to refuse further agreements to protect the integrity of the tower or the aesthetic appearance of the site, Kuczynski said.

"That refusal may result in litigation if a prospective user believes that the Town is arbitrarily showing favoritism to one company over another," he wrote.

Kuczynski identified several other problems in the draft lease, including some that must be addressed before he would recommend signing the agreement.

Michael Pacyna, U.S. Cellular's project manager for real estate and construction, said the company planned to revise its lease and resubmit it by the end of September.

Pacyna said the interference issue was open for discussion and that the requirement that the town prevent interference was not meant to exclude other companies from the tower. There are tanks in the Charles Town, W.Va., area that have three or four different carriers on them, Pacyna said.

"It's just not likely that you would run into an interference problem on a tank," he said.

Pacyna said he was confident the company and the town would eventually work out an agreement acceptable for both.

"I think with each successive review, everybody gets a little closer to getting that document done," he said.

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