Wood County officials uphold cell tower ordinance

PARKERSBURG – Wood County commissioners voted Thursday to accept the planning commission’s recommendation to stay with the county’s current wireless telecommunications ordinance.

By teleconference, Brian Tregoning from Fox Engineering and Center for Municipal Solutions told the commissioners he felt there had been some confusion during his June 5 meeting with planners.

“While we can change or update your county ordinance using our expertise, you can keep your ordinance as is if you want to do so. You don’t have to have a new ordinance. That’s up to you. We can modify your ordinance or not. It’s not our intent to complicate the process. We’re making it simpler and all at no cost to the county,” Tregoning told commissioners Blair Couch and Steve Gainer. Commission President Wayne Dunn was out of town and did not attend Thursday’s county commission meeting.

“When you came in the first time and laid out your proposal, we, that is Steve (Gainer) and I, felt our process was good and we wanted to stick with it. Wayne (Dunn) wanted to bring you back in to meet with us again. It was at that point we asked the planning commission to make a recommendation and they said they want to keep the current process,” Couch told Tregoning. The planning commission is the entity, which reviews cell tower applications.

“The planning commission said they wanted to keep the ordinance and voted unanimously,” Gainer said. Gainer is the county commission liaison to the planning commission but did not attend the June 5 meeting.

Tregoning earlier told the commissioners his firm’s services are paid for out of an escrow account set up by the cell tower applicant. He said the firm bills at an hourly rate, which is taken from that account, with leftover funds returned to the developer.

“We just help counties and cities review and update their ordinances, manage applications, the county would still have the ultimate authority, we just add our own expertise,” Tregoning told planners at the June 5 meeting. He said the firm is currently providing services in 34 states. He told planners the firm is not in an adversarial position with telecommunication companies. “We just regulate adherence to the ordinance,” he said.

Speaking in opposition to the proposal at the June 5 planning meeting, Parkersburg attorney Robert Goldenberg, representing AT&T, told planners the county already has an ordinance that works and they have had no problems with the telecommunications firms so there was no need to impose additional regulations, drive up costs, cause delays and chase away potential new business.

Goldenberg also attended Thursday’s county commission meeting.

At the June 5 meeting, Bill Brown, county engineer, told the planners structural engineers already inspect the towers, at the telecommunication company’s expense, and the current ordinance includes all state regulations including requiring co-habitation on towers as much as possible.

Opposition to Fox Engineering’s proposal also came in the form of a letter to planners in which Bethanne Cooley, director of state legislative affairs with CTIA, The Wireless Association, said it was “unnecessary and could hamper broadband deployment in the county and state, thereby negatively impacting West Virginia’s wireless consumers.” She noted by the end of 2012, U.S. wireless carriers’ cumulative capital investment totaled more than $378 billion.