A 100-foot telecommunication tower proposed for a commercially zoned neighborhood south of Cortez was recommended for approval by the Montezuma County Planning and Zoning Department because it met federal and local regulations.
But businesses and residents have expressed concerns, and a planning board member was troubled that is within a landing pattern for the Cortez Municipal Airport.
The tower is proposed on private land off County Road 24.3 in a commercial-industrial area that also includes residences.
AT&T will be locating wireless services on the tower as part of the First Net project designed to improve wireless communications for first responders, said Shelly Neace, director of programming and development for Horizon Tower, presenting on behalf of AT&T.
AT&T won the contract, and in exchange can locate its wireless network services on the tower, but First Net emergency services will take precedence.
“Its priority is public safety, and it will also provide competitive wireless service to the local community,” Neace said.
She said its location was based on an engineering study, coverage objective, meeting local regulations and access to power. The tower has also been approved by the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration.
The metal structure affixed with telecommunication equipment would be located near five businesses, planning officials said, and there are homes in the general area as well. It meets the 100-foot setback from structures requirement, said planning director Don Haley.
The FAA required it be lowered from 150 feet to 100 feet because of its proximity to the airport, and mandated that no blinking lights be installed.
Planning Commissioner Rob Pope, who is also a pilot, expressed concerns about the towers’ location.
“It is on the downward leg of runway 21, and I’m surprised they don’t want a light on top of that,” he said. “As a pilot, I disagree with that.”
An audience member commented the airport is relied on by firefighting helicopters that may have haul lines.
The FAA concluded that they did not want a light on the tower because it could be confused with nearby runway lights, Haley said. Neace said they are obligated by law to follow what the FAA requires.
Planning commissioner member Kelly Belt said the board had heard concerns from neighbors about the tower, including about the potential health impacts from the electronic equipment.
Neace said radio frequency levels on towers are strictly regulated by the FCC to protect human health, and that the tower operates far below the maximum allowable levels. The tower would not have 5G technology.
She added that under the 1996 Telecommunication Act, it is prohibited by local governments to consider health issues on the location of a telecommunication facility because it has been determined by federal regulators that it is a non-issue.
Jim Young, who owns Cortez Mini Storage near the proposed tower, said he would like to see the plan denied because of its “poor location” near the airport and concern over health impacts.
He and his wife, Barbara, cited a telecommunication tower in California near an elementary school that was removed this year after parents expressed concern that radio frequency radiation was linked to local cancer cases. There was no evidence that it was linked to the illnesses, and the tower was within FCC compliance, according to CBS news reports, but Sprint decided to move the tower to a different site.
“The regulators are from a separate state. We have to make decisions on what is good for our community,” Young said.
“My concern is who comes in and checks the levels. Do we trust the company or do we have people in our own county to check?” added Barbara Young.
Neace responded that telecommunication towers have been heavily studied for health impacts and have been determined to be safe by the FCC.
Belt and Pope sympathized with neighbors concerns with having a tower in their backyard, but added the project complied with local and federal regulations. The board voted 4-0 to recommend it for a approval, and the final decision goes to the county commission.