County may trade space for tower use
The Morgan County Commissioners heard a proposal at their April 6 meeting from a company that wants to build four wireless communications towers and use several existing towers throughout the county.
Vista PSC LLC is a partner of Verizon. The towers would bring Verizon Wireless cell phone service to the area and also allow for future wireless internet service.
In return, county government would receive $500 rent per month on towers built on county property and be able to use the tower facilities to mount antennas for 911 and emergency services. The lease terms would be for 15 years.
Gary Barber, representing Vista, presented commissioners with detailed engineering drawings specifying the proposed tower installations. Two 150-ft. towers are proposed for the U.S. 522 corridor south of Berkeley Springs.
One tower would be built at the U. S. 522 Business Park and another on county land near the water tower off of Cold Run Valley Road.
The system would also use the existing tower on the Shaffer property near Omps. Because the two proposed towers are only 150-ft. tall, they will not require warning lights.
Commission President Glen Stotler said the $12,000 a year in rent received from the two towers on county property could be funneled back into county communications systems.
250 ft. tower
One tower proposed to be built near War Memorial Hospital will rise 250 ft. The tower also has the capacity to be extended another 50 ft. to a height of 300 ft. The tower will require special lighting.
Stotler asked what determines whether a tower needs warning lights.
Barber said the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) makes the decision based on the tower's location, height of the tower and the local air traffic.
Barber said the tower near the hospital, in addition to cells, might also have several microwave dishes mounted to support regular wired telephone service.
This tower would be used by county 911 and emergency services. In return, the county would lease the property to Vista for free. Vista planned a 150 ft. tower and will add the additional 100 ft. at no cost to the county.
River Road tower
Another proposed tower would be built near the intersection of River Road and U.S. 522. The site has not been determined. It is expected to be a 150 ft. tower, but may need warning lights due to the airport between River Road and the Potomac River.
Issues and comments
County Administrator Bill Clark said that if warning lights are needed, a red light was preferred over a strobe light.
The commissioners said they had been down that road before. A strobe light was originally on the cell tower on the Shaffer property, but was removed after local residents repeatedly complained.
Speaking about wireless internet, Clark said, "I am not comfortable waiting for wireless internet service. I would like to talk more about providing space on the towers for internet."
David Michael, the county's 911 and Emergency Services Director, said he needed to separate transmission from reception antennas on the tower near the hospital, placing one at the top and another somewhat lower. Barber said that would be an issue for further discussion.
Stotler wanted to have language in the contract that would allow Morgan County to place antennas on all towers that Vista PSC is building, including those in Washington County. This might be necessary for radio coverage to extend to all areas of Morgan County.
Barber said he would have to check to see if any zoning-related issues in Washington County would be prohibitive.
Asked how much it cost to build each tower, Barber said between $200,000 and $300,000.
"We are looking at trying to enhance our communications ability and this proposal would save the county the cost of having to build our own towers," Stotler said.
He asked that the topic be put on the agenda of the next meeting for possible action, if open issues can be resolved.