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County to study cell tower rules

County commissioners will study possible changes to rules for cellular towers after multiple citizens voiced concerns about a recent surge in construction of new towers.

At their Tuesday morning meeting, commissioners were to have considered the County Planning Board’s recommendation to place a six-month moratorium, or halt, on construction of cell towers. However, commissioners unanimously voted to table the matter until their regular meeting on Jan. 13, 2009, after Chairman Palmer Rich said he would like to have more information on the topic before making a decision.

The Planning Board’s suggestion to temporarily suspend new cell tower construction stemmed from comments made by citizens at Board of Commissioners’ October meetings about health and safety considerations associated with the towers, County Planning Director Paul Soudi told The Post-Searchlight.

While some residents who live near a cell tower to be placed off Georgia 253 North believe the radiation emitted by the towers could negatively affect human health, there are also people who believe the cell towers do not pose a health risk, according to representatives from tower construction companies.

Commissioner Butch Mosely said he was concerned the mention of a moratorium could lead to numerous applications for new cell towers being submitted before commissioners could meet in January. However, Soudi said he believed that because about a dozen new cell towers had already been approved earlier this year, he did not believe a large demand for more towers exists. Most of the towers approved previously were associated with the plans of AT&T, which owns the former Cingular/BellSouth Wireless holdings, to expand its cellular phone service into Decatur County.

Is moratorium needed?

The Planning Board recommended the cell tower moratorium to commissioners with the intent of giving them time to consider possible revisions to county requirements for the towers, Soudi told The Post-Searchlight. After the planners met on Nov. 4, Soudi researched similar rules in the ordinances of Grady, Seminole and Thomas counties, as well as the City of Bainbridge and Madison County, Fla.

Soudi found Decatur County’s rules were stricter than the other governments’ in two key respects.

First, by the requirement that a tower be placed away from commercial or residential structures by a distance of at least 40 feet plus the tower’s height, which is intended to prevent property damage or injury if the tower were to fall.

Second, by the requirement that towers with a height of more than 90 feet not be located within a quarter-mile of other existing towers. According to Soudi, Decatur County’s ordinance was unique in that requirement.

Soudi said he was not taking a position on the moratorium or citizens’ concerns. However, he believes the issue of cell towers’ radiation should be regulated by the federal government and not local governments, which he said are more concerned with the towers’ location and height.

Commissioner Mosely said he was in favor of limiting the construction of new cell towers and encouraging companies like AT&T to re-use existing towers’ capacity.

A web site, http://wwwantennasearch.com, offers the ability to search for cell towers and antennas located within a four-mile radius of a given address.

Other Business

In other business, county commissioners:

• Approved a resolution authorizing volunteers and elected officials to be covered by the county’s self-insured workers compensation fund and liability insurance. Those covered include volunteer firefighters, volunteer law enforcement personnel that are POST-certified, volunteer members of emergency management or civil defense organization, emergency medical service or rescue organization, volunteer first responder and elected county officials.

• Approved a final plat request from Vantage Tower of Tampa, Fla., for construction of a 220-foot cell tower to be located on a parcel of land owned by Woodie and Cile Warr and located off the northwest corner of Gaston Road and Cyrene Road near Brinson.

• Held an approximately 15-minute-long closed session to discuss personnel matters. When the regular session resumed, Rich said no action would be taken.

• Canceled the commissioners’ regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 23 because of its proximity to the Christmas holiday.