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Shores residents still waiting for start on cell tower


Eight months after Indian River Shores ended years of controversy and approved construction of a cell tower on town property, residents are still waiting for wireless companies – even one provider – to sign on so construction can proceed.

Town Manager Robbie Stabe each month gives the council an update on where things stand with the tower, which originally was scheduled to be completed by Easter, and then by the 4th of July.

For several months, Datapath, the tower firm the Shores hired to manage the project, has been “very close” to inking a deal with one of the top two providers – Verizon or AT&T – and in talks with at least one more company.

Last week, Stabe said he was hopeful because one of the providers actually sent a survey crew out to eyeball the tower site. But there’s still no long-term lease agreement for the provider to mount its transmission equipment on the tower. The Town is barred from revealing the name of the company until the deal is sealed, but it is rumored the leading prospect is Verizon.

Town officials have said that they need to get at least two cell service providers –AT&T and Verizon – on the tower to alleviate significant reception problems Town residents have had for many years. The problems have gotten worse with the proliferation of smart phones and the increased demand for data and high-speed internet signals.

Depending upon the configuration of the equipment, the 115-foot-tall stealth Monopine tower – designed to look like a massive pine tree – is expected to be able to carry equipment from up to five providers. T-Mobile and Sprint are two other names tossed out as prospects.

In the interim, while this issue has languished for more than a decade, many residents and the entire Public Safety Department have invested in devices that boost signal enough to be able to make or receive important calls inside a house or from a patrol car, fire truck or ambulance.

Residents who have not installed these signal boosters still have to walk outside their homes, sometimes all the way to the end of the driveway to get enough bars to use their phones.

Councilman Dick Haverland said the delays in tower approvals may have resulted in the Town missing a prime negotiating window to get the carriers on at the best price, but he said, “Those deals are gone now.”

Stabe said that’s not what he’s hearing from Datapath about the market, but the reality is that no signed contracts have been delivered to the Town, for whatever reason.

From the time Datapath says it’s ready to start construction, it will take two to three months to complete. The tower will be constructed on a concrete slab in a wooded portion of the town hall and town public safety complex property.

The base of the tower will be fenced and landscaped to make it look less obtrusive. The “branches” of the Monopine stealth tower will go on once the main structure of the tower is complete.

Obviously, the tower can’t go forward without assurances that carriers will actually broadcast signals from it, and Datapath has a major stake in its financial viability.

The Town’s cost-and-revenue-sharing arrangement with Datapath will provide some meager income to town coffers from provider lease payments, but revenue has never been the driving force for the tower.

Mayor Brian Barefoot, showing his frustration and growing impatience with the delays, said, “It’s not about the money anymore,” encouraging Stabe to pass the word along to Datapath to just get the deal done and get the carriers signed on. He also made it clear that the council will hold Stabe’s feet to the fire until the tower is up and running.

“If people come back here in November and that tower isn’t up for season, you’re going to be up there at the top of that monopine,” Barefoot said to Stabe. He appeared to be half joking.