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Indian River Shores back to square one on cell tower

Photo: A clock tower being used as a cellular tower in another city.

For a while, it looked like the biggest hurdle to erecting a cellular tower within the Town of Indian River Shores might come from some distant federal agency or Native American tribal council, but the process seems to have come to a screeching halt due to local politics.

Twenty Shores families have banded together to hire beachside attorney Michael O’Haire to represent their concerns over the tower design and placement. The Town Council, in an effort to mollify those objecting to the tower, is now in the market for a consultant to re-open the whole issue of what kind of tower should be built and where it should be erected.

A clock tower and a bell tower are two options likely to be explored by the firm that is chosen to conduct a workshop or a focus group to seek some ever-elusive consensus on the tower project.

Town Manager Robbie Stabe said the new consultant, for whom the Town Council authorized an initial budget of $15,000, would work in tandem with Datapath Tower, the company previously hired to permit and build the tower.

Datapath would then own the tower and give the Town a share of the revenues from leases with carriers like AT&T and Verizon. 

The 130-foot monopole tower the Town Council previously settled on would have supported five different carriers, giving Town residents more cell phone options. Other heights and designs might not support as many different service providers.

Two cranes were set to be brought in this past Tuesday to simulate what a 130-foot tower would look like at two different locations in the Town. Residents were notified and invited to view the cranes and offer their opinions.

“Datapath is obviously not very happy with the slow-down, but they will work with the Town to build whatever type of tower the Town wants, wherever the Town wants it,” Stabe said.

O’Haire spoke to the Town Council urging leaders to take a step back and consider all the possible options to improve cell service in the Town. Then he followed up with a letter suggesting CityScape Consultants, a firm Indian River County has employed on tower projects.

In that letter, he suggested a tower might not be the only way to solve the problem of poor cell phone reception. He also noted that the proposed tower site at Bee Gum Point at the end of Fred Tuerk Drive next to the electric substation has been identified as a wetland. 

However, engineering data presented by Stabe at the meeting showed that the Bee Gum Point site was the only one of three proposed sites that was not in a wetland or flood plain.

John’s Island resident Paul Kaneb coordinated the hiring of O’Haire and suggested that John’s Island resident Sandy Kasten and Estuary resident Denis Conlon work with the new design consultant on the project.

Kaneb has opposed the construction of a cell tower every time the Town seriously considered siting one on the Bee Gum Point property. On the other end of the controversy, nearly 100 residents of Bermuda Bay have signed a petition and packed Town meetings to say the Bee Gum Point site would be the least intrusive to their neighborhood, but that two prospective sites on Town property – near Town Hall or next to the Public Safety Complex – would literally be in their back yards.

This pitting of Bermuda Bay interests against the interests of certain John’s Island residents has led to a long series of stalemates and delayed the cell tower project for the better part of a decade.

To avoid a potential threat of litigation further bogging down the process now that residents have engaged an attorney, the Town likely will comply with residents’ requests and re-visit all the engineering surveys that have been completed and all the data and research that has been collected.

Last fall, Stabe and the Town Council hoped to have the tower up and running in 10 months to one year, which would bring better cell service to the Shores by the time seasonal residents returned next November. With this latest detour – who knows?

Stabe said the next step is to put the consultant job out to bid, meaning that it could take a month or two for the selected firm to get up to speed and to schedule the first design workshop or focus group.