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EDITORIAL: Appropriate alternative may be available for cell tower

By Staff | Dec 9, 2010

Almost everybody is familiar with the Verizon Wireless commercial campaign where an employee, speaking on his cell phone, repeatedly asks, “Can you hear me now?” In every instance, his response to the person on the other end of the line is “Good.”

However, this may not be the case on Sanibel.

Not because of spotty reception or dropped calls, mind you. It has more to do with the proposed location of a a 149-foot telecommunications tower at the Donax Street Wastewater Reclamation Facility, and whether that site is appropriate for such a structure.

On Tuesday, about 30 residents filled MacKenzie Hall to voice their opposition to a resolution that would allow a cell tower to be built there. Although the application submitted by Verizon Wireless does meet every requirement of the city’s Land Development Code, these citizens have balked at whether the site would be suitable for the massive antenna.

This group raised several questions about the cell tower, including whether the structure would pose a threat to surrounding neighborhoods during a severe weather event like a hurricane and if Verizon Wireless will comply with Federal Communications Commission regulations for non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation and radio frequency emission levels.

However, the most frequently asked question was: Is this the most appropriate site to erect a telecommunications tower?

We don’t think so.

Laura Belflower, the attorney representing the cell phone service provider, told the council that her client desired a site to construct a tower at the easternmost location available on Sanibel. At present, the Donax Street site is the easternmost parcel available among a number of city-owned properties designated as “a telecommunications tolerant site.”

However, councilman Jim Jennings had an interesting idea. Why not use the Lighthouse Park property, recently acquired by the city, for such a structure? The 44-plus acres available there are buffered from residential neighborhoods. A camouflaged structure, which could be altered to resemble a pine tree, would be much less of an eyesore. And that location would definitely meet the applicant’s desire to be situated on the eastern tip of the island.

However, as City Attorney Ken Cuyler pointed out, because the United States Coast Guard still regulates what can — and cannot — be constructed on the site of the historic Sanibel Lighthouse, staff must still investigate whether that parcel could be considered.

City Council will revisit the Verizon Wireless proposal again in February, after questions raised by both the public and city staff have been answered. Should Lighthouse Park be determined an available site for the construction of a cell tower, we would urge local leaders to present that location as “a telecommunications tolerant site.”

And we hope councilors get this message from their constituents, loud and clear.

“Can you hear us now?”

— Reporter editorial