​Cell Tower Location Discussion Ongoing

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Sept. 9 Sewanee Community Council meeting, a long discussion about locating a new cell tower near the water tower off Breakfield Road led to a suggestion to erect the tower in a nearby wooded area. “We would consider it,” said Vice-Chancellor John McCardell. More than 30 community members attended the meeting. A proposal to bring 1 Gbps fiber optic internet service to all leaseholds, partially funded by the leaseholders, also prompted much discussion. [See “Fiber Optic Service to Every House Proposed.”]

Strong community objection to locating a cell tower behind the football stadium and an “adverse affect” ruling by the State Historic Preservation Office prompted a search for another site. According to Eric Hartman, vice president of risk management and institutional effectiveness, the water tower location would require a taller tower, 285 feet as opposed to 185 feet. Verizon, the primary service provider who would use the new tower, said mounting equipment on the water tower walk-around, height 130 feet, would not provide adequate propagation. Likewise, locating the tower further down Breakfield Road would not provide adequate propagation. Verizon also rejected the former convenience center as a possible location due to liability concerns from toxic chemicals revealed in a bore sample. Close proximity to the airport ruled out other possible locations.

Many community members expressed health concerns about the water tower site, pointing to World Health Organization data indicating cell towers “are not guaranteed to be safe.” The nearest residence, the Malde home, would be 1,000 feet from the tower.

“The University is not going to put any of our neighbors at risk unnecessarily,” insisted McCardell. “There are enough other communities that have erected towers who have decided there is no risk or insignificant risk.”

At 285 feet, the tower would require a light, Hartman said, “likely red.” He also noted the height might not be sufficient and an additional tower might be needed for satisfactory propagation.

One community member pointed to decreased property values for leaseholds near the tower and asked if the University would provide compensation.

“We haven’t discussed that,” Hartman said.

In response to the suggestion to move the location from near the water tower into the nearby woods, Hartman said, “I don’t know if Verizon is interested in pushing it further into the woods.” But Hartman stressed the service provider was committed to “trying to make it work.” Hartman noted the Environmental Protection Agency objected to tree cutting due to concerns about bats.

No contracts have been signed with Verizon or the company that would own the tower, Hartman said. He estimated the rent the University charged at $1,000 per month, but said nothing had been negotiated.

McCardell insisted the conversation was ongoing and invited additional questions and comments.

In other business, Sewanee Community Funding Project chair Pixie Dozier announced $20,000 was available for improvements and amenities “to enhance the community and improve the quality of life.” Applications are available at various locations throughout the community and online by emailing <sewaneefproject@gmail.com>. The deadline for applying is Nov. 1.

Election officer Charles Whitmer announced a special election would be held to fill a vacant District 4 seat. Candidates must reside in District 4 and submit a nominating petition signed by 10 District 4 residents before Oct. 4. Nominating petitions are available at the Lease Office, the “Blue House,” on University Avenue. Voting will take place at the Lease Office, through Oct. 25. Only District 4 residents can vote in this special election.

Fiber Optic Service for Every House Proposed

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

Eric Hartman described the proposal to bring fiber optic internet service to all leaseholders as “led by Ben Lomand, powered by Duck River, and supported by the University of the South.” Hartman, head of University Risk Management, addressed Sewanee residents and the Sewanee Community Council at the Sept. 9 meeting.

Ben Lomand would provide the service, Hartman explained, and Duck River’s infrastructure would deliver the service. Subscribing to the fee-based service would be optional.

Beyond the installation expenses Ben Lomand and Duck River will pay for, “the cost is $725,000,” said Vice-Chancellor John McCardell. “The University is in for about 15 percent of that, or about $100,000. The remaining 85 percent needs to be covered in some way.”

The 15 percent figure is based on the fact that of 555 total leaseholds, 15 percent are University properties.

McCardell proposed a possible payment model in which residents and businesses would be assessed $12.50 per month and nonresidents $50 per month for 10 years.

“We’re not looking for a specific decision,” McCardell said, “We’re simply asking your opinion about what is a fair spreading of this cost over a period of time.”

Council representative Eric Keen noted some leaseholders would “use the service more than others and not all need it.”

McCardell stressed the discussion was about “laying the infrastructure,” not about whether individuals chose to “avail themselves of the service.”

No vote was taken. No other objections were raised.

Suggestions from council members and residents for proportioning the cost included basing the share each leaseholder paid on property values and offering a discount to leaseholders who paid up front as opposed to over time. Opinions varied on whether residents and nonresidents should pay the same amount.

Ben Lomand was ready to begin construction immediately, Hartman said.