Consulting firm considered for rural towers

PARKERSBURG – Wood County commissioners are considering an engineering consulting service to handle cell tower applications and processing for the rural areas.

Meeting with county officials on Monday, Brian Tregoning of Fox Engineering and Center for Municipal Solutions with offices in Ripley outlined his firm’s services, including drafting of a new proposed cell tower ordinance.

“We are already working in 27 states, including many counties in West Virginia. We would provide a basic ordinance. There is no charge for our services to the county. We just take some of the workload off your personnel and provide an all-round professional process relating to regulation of the towers,” Tregoning said. “We review current ordinances and make recommendations for any changes.”

Under the proposed process, an escrow account for $8,500 would be set up by the applicant. The firm bills at an hourly rate, which is taken from that account, with leftover funds returned to the developer, Tregoning said.

Currently proposed cell tower developers file an application with the county that goes to the Wood County Planning Commission for review and public hearing for comment. Under the county’s current ordinance there is a $500 building permit fee for construction of a new cell tower and $100 if it’s an add-on to an existing tower. The planning board conducts public hearings on the application to assure all the requirements for setbacks, fencing and other requirements are met and many times questions if the developer could add on to an existing tower rather than build a new one. The planners also require space be available at a future date if it might be needed by county emergency services.

“What we would do is review your ordinance; write a new one for you. When providers come in to apply, they would be referred to us. We handle the application process, then make a recommendation to you all. This is our niche, it’s our profession, what we do everyday. Wireless applications can be complicated, and by our company providing these services, it frees your people up, it gives you a professional to review these things. We also prioritize locations,” Tregoning said.

He said a tower can cost $150,000 to $275,00 plus additional costs associated with construction.

He said the ordinance would also cover what would happen if the tower was no longer in use.

“It seems like we already have most of these regulations in place and there are also federal regulations they have to meet, so I’m not sure we would need your services. It might just be adding another layer of bureaucracy,” Commissioner Steve Gainer said.

Tregoning said any agreement with the engineering firm could be reviewed annually.

“But once we are have an agreement, to date, we have never had any entity cancel the new agreement,” he said.

“We aren’t trying to hurt business or add red tape,” Commissioner Blair Couch said, noting the county officials are exploring potential new sources of revenue and raising the permit fee for construction of the towers might be a possibility.

“I don’t see any harm in giving this a try for a year to see if it generates additional revenue,” Couch said.

Tregoning noted there are many areas the county can control, adding there are issues that can be of concern like companies building towers on speculation. “Then you end up with 240-foot towers with no providers on them,” he said.

“It might also be good for the safety aspect. We don’t want too many towers,” commission President Wayne Dunn said.

“The Wood County Commission still has the ultimate oversight,” Tregoning said.

The commissioners decided to continue the discussion for about two weeks to an upcoming agenda for possible action. Couch noted the county would still want public hearings conducted on cell tower applications to allow public comment as they are presented. Couch said a request for qualifications could be sought by the county for services to start the process.