Letter to the Editor: Allamakee County needs towers

To the Editor:

There has been a great deal of back and forth in the last year-and-a-half regarding construction of communication towers in Allamakee County, with one proposed tower near New Albin being the center of some debate.

We’d like to set the record straight and make sure that residents in Allamakee County fully understand what’s at stake. The cell site near New Albin is part of a nationwide federal initiative called FirstNet. FirstNet is a mobile communications network being built specifically to prioritize Emergency Services/First Responders communications in emergency situations. My company, NEIT (Northeast Iowa Telephone Company) is a rural network partner for AT&T, and thereby FirstNet, and is responsible for managing construction.

In the February 25 Allamakee County Board of Supervisors meeting minutes published in The Standard February 27, comments were made regarding the impact of legislation introduced in the Iowa House of Representatives related to local zoning body approval of zoning applications for towers being constructed for the FirstNet network. In the minutes, it was recorded that Allamakee County Zoning Administrator Tom Blake stated that when NEIT submitted its zoning permit applications for a tower in New Albin it never considered other locations for the proposed tower.  This is completely untrue.

The process that NEIT followed (and was detailed in several meetings with the Allamakee Board of Adjustments and Board of Supervisors) begins with evaluations of coverage needs. The coverage needs of the FirstNet network are expansive and the geography of the New Albin area makes it difficult to meet those needs. For the local zoning authority to throw darts at a map implying that other locations will meet the needs for the area is simply counterproductive and ignores engineering requirements.

For tower siting, NEIT works with RF Engineers and tower compliance consultants to determine locations that are acceptable and likely to be approved. For new tower construction, numerous properties in the New Albin area were evaluated by NEIT. Next, the site needed to have adequate vehicle access, reasonable access to utilities, be suitable for construction and have a willing landowner to host the tower.  Then, the full approval process began, which includes review by the FAA, the FCC, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Iowa State Historic Preservation Office, the Iowa DNR and 28 Native American tribes.

The final proposed site passed all governmental approvals mentioned above, and when it neared completion of this process, NEIT submitted its zoning permit applications.

During the process for permit approval, NEIT even offered a compromise to lower the height of the tower so that the top of the tower would not have lights and would be below the tree line out of the visibility of a concerned neighbor, but that was still not acceptable to the neighbor. Ultimately, a 3-2 vote by the Board of Adjustments stopped construction of the proposed tower. In effect, one person’s opinion would deny first responders and citizens of Iowa with the benefits of the FirstNet network simply because they decided they didn’t want a cell site nearby. That hardly seems fair or desirable to the greater community.

I ask that Allamakee County residents consider the communication needs of their community.  I live, work and play in northeast Iowa in part due to the scenic beauty and recreational opportunities it offers. However, I also believe that communication needs are critical for the area. Allamakee County is not known for its cellular and Internet service availability.  It is likely the most difficult county in the state to provide wireless coverage due to its topography.

To compound this problem, the County has implemented an ordinance that restricts tower construction for non-governmental networks in over 75 percent of Allamakee County. When you also consider that towers cannot be constructed in flood plains it eliminates over 82 percent of the county.
In addition to considering the general communication needs of the county, please consider what the FirstNet network will offer Allamakee County, as well as the rest of the nation. This network is being built for law enforcement, first responders and emergency service personnel and volunteers that serve us every day. This network provides an expressway so those users always have access to mobile voice and data and don’t take a backseat on the network to users streaming a movie or playing a game.

This network will allow data speeds and access for dispatch to view live streaming video of situations officers are dealing with. It will allow live transfer of data from equipment in an ambulance to the emergency room so staff is better prepared for the patient to arrive. It will also allow so much more, including things we cannot imagine yet.

Allamakee County Emergency Management, the Sheriff’s Department, volunteer firefighters, ambulance services, State Troopers, the State Fire Marshall, the DNR, the FBI and many others will all benefit from the FirstNet network. That level of safety and security for local residents should be the overriding priority.

Respectfully,

Steve Hanson
NEIT Director of Business Development and resident of rural Monona

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