Thursday, October 01, 2009

Neighborhood, railroad find compromise for communications tower

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Good towers make good neighbors, the Palm Beach, Fla., Post reports. Neighborhood opposition was sparked when Florida East Coast Railway said it planned a 200-foot-tall communications tower - twice as high as the Jupiter Lighthouse - just west of the tracks off the Loxahatchee River.

But a deal is being worked out by Tequesta, FEC and Jupiter officials to install the equipment to a shorter, existing tower in an industrial area in Tequesta. If the agreement is approved, it would be the first time the FEC will use a communication tower that it does not own, said FEC attorney Bob Cook.

"We want to get along with residents. We understand the opposition to the proposed location," Cook said.

The proposal calls for a single-pole tower, surrounded by a chain-link fence with barbed wire on top. The tower is needed to upgrade railroad communications and improve railroad safety, said Richard Newton, president of Atlanta-based Signal Port LLC, the company proposing the tower.

Jupiter residents and officials are in a tight spot because a federal law passed in 1995 exempts railroads from state and local zoning laws on the 50 feet of property on each side of the tracks. The 1995 Federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act prevents "a patchwork of local regulations" from interfering with railroad operations, said Newton.

The FEC is not required to comply with Jupiter's 50-foot communication tower height requirement. Nor must the FEC obtain approval from the Jupiter Town Commission to build the tower, said Town Attorney Tom Baird.

Tequesta Councilman Tom Paterno proposed locating the FEC equipment inside a 130-foot-tall tower owned by the Village east of the water treatment plant on Old Dixie Highway, just south of the Martin County line. An American flag waves on top of the white tower, which looks like a flagpole.

The village is paid about $120,000 annually from three private cell phone companies that lease tower space. Called co-locating, companies use existing communication towers rather than build their own, said Village Manager Mike Couzzo.

FEC will not pay Tequesta to locate its communications equipment in the tower. And the company wants a long-term lease, Cook said.

"We already own land along the tracks. We can drive a good bargain," Cook said.

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