Officials approve resolution to prevent cell towers

Emergency ruling focuses on city street rights-of-way in light of pending state legislation

City officials have approved a last-minute resolution to prevent the construction of cell towers in city street rights-of-way.

In an emergency meeting of the Seymour Board of Public Works and Safety on Sunday afternoon, members identified those rights-of-way as areas where utilities must be buried underground.

Senate Enrolled Act 213, which Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has until Thursday to sign, amends state legislation to allow the use of municipalities’ street rights-of-ways for small cell facilities and wireless support structures unless a permit authority, in Seymour’s case the board of works, designated those areas as strictly for underground utilities before May 1.

Cities, towns and counties were left scrambling last week to draft resolutions and call officials together with many holding emergency weekend meetings.

“Basically, it lets the cellphone companies come in and put one wherever they want,” Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman said.

The bill is intended to prepare Indiana for the anticipated 2020 rollout of 5G wireless communication, which promises speeds up to 10 times faster than the best available 4G connections today.

Conflict between municipalities and wireless cellular companies has come from the demand and need for constantly improving cell service and communities resisting the proliferation of poles and cell towers. Cellular companies took their battle to state legislators and got the bill passed by the General Assembly on April 22.

The bill states “micro” cellphone towers can go up in city rights-of-way but must be 500 feet away from each other and no more than 50 feet tall. The smaller towers help strengthen a wireless signal by taking some of the burden from existing large cell towers.

Luedeman said the bill takes away local control and consideration of where such utility structures are best suited in a community.

Investments have been made by the city, developers and homeowners to ensure utility lines are located underground, he said.

As part of the resolution, cellular companies still can request a special permit to erect a tower. That request would require a public hearing at which time anyone could support or object, Luedeman said.

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.