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Adirondack groups challenge FCC towers law

By: KIM SMITH DEDAM

ELIZABETHTOWN — A coalition of 10 environmental and public-interest groups is concerned with proposed federal cell-tower zoning rules.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission laws would govern cell-tower expansion, regardless of local zoning.

That means, essentially, that Communications Towers Policy crafted and maintained by the Adirondack Park Agency would not apply if a telecommunications company wanted to increase its tower’s capacity, height and size for expansion or equipment co-location.

The Adirondack Council raised the alarm locally, in part because the FCC’s move to assume jurisdiction has not been vetted by the public.

“This change in legislation occurred as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012,” Council spokesman John Sheehan told the Press-Republican.

“This rule would say that if you had a (telecommunications tower) application before a local entity, the FCC would consider it approved.”

FOUR CRITERIA

The federal government is proposing four criteria for “material increase” in tower height and size, without regard for site-specific regulations maintained by APA’s “substantially invisible” clause.

“The FCC rule allows for a 10 percent or more expansion in height or to essentially double the (cell tower’s) profile sideways,” Sheehan said.

The move toward federal jurisdiction is meant to accelerate broadband access across the United States.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the Broadband Acceleration Initiative would “accelerate private and public investment to strengthen our nation’s communications networks.

“Just as is the case for our nation’s roads and bridges, we must continue to invest in improvements to cell towers and transmission equipment, in order to ensure ubiquitous, high-speed Internet for all Americans,” she said in a recent news release.

“To keep pace with technological advances ... our policies must continue to adapt.”

‘MORE LAX’

But the FCC rules would be more lax than APA and some local government rules, Sheehan countered.

“Twelve years ago, the Park Agency solved this problem with its Policy on Communication Towers and Other Tall Structures, which requires them to be substantially invisible. And they’ve done that in a speedy and efficient way,” he said.

“The FCC ruling changes three things: First, the addition of distributed antennae systems (called DAS); second, regulation of temporary towers and how long they can stay up without a permit; and third, it creates an automatic exemption for co-location and any reason for expanding a tower. 

“Local authority doesn’t have jurisdiction anymore.”

‘UNWARRANTED’

Expansion up to 10 percent in tower height would be allowed by the FCC rule, regardless of local law. 

FCC is also looking to ramp up its “shot clock” rules, which determine how long local or state zoning agencies have to rule on tower applications. If local governments don’t meet the federal deadline, the applicant would be automatically approved.

Questions remain about whether a federal agency has authority to usurp New York state constitutional law with regard to the Adirondack Park. The APA regulations oversee use of Adirondack Park lands, including 3 million acres of land owned by state taxpayers.

“That is an open question. That’s one of the things people can write in about,” Sheehan said of the pending FCC rule.

PLANNING EFFORTS

The coalition of environmental, public-interest and historic groups sent a letter to FCC objecting to elements of the Broadband Acceleration Initiative.

In that letter, Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway called the FCC rule changes unwarranted.

“In many areas of New York, tourism is the top economic engine,” he said. “People in those places have invested enormous time and capital in their zoning and planning efforts to protect the visual appeal of their communities.”

Other groups that signed the letter include the Adirondack Mountain Club; Citizens Campaign for the Environment; Mohawk-Hudson Land Conservancy; NY Public Interest Research Group; Parks & Trails New York; the Preservation League of New York; Protect the Adirondacks; Scenic Hudson; and the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Email Kim Smith Dedam:kdedam@pressrepublican.com

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TO WEIGH IN

Public comments on the proposed rule can be submitted to the FCC through Feb. 3, according to the FCC's website. Address U.S. Postal Service first-class, Express and Priority mail to: Re: FCC 13-122, 445 12th Street SW., Washington DC 20554.

Comments can be filed online by accessing the Electronic Comment Filing System at: http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/ecfs2/

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