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Cellular towers rising in Roswell

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Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Sean Milks and Kevin Winner came from Albuquerque to request variances on two AT&T telecommunication towers from the Planning and Zoning Committee on Tuesday evening at the Roswell Museum and Art Center.

Milks is one of the owners of Gravity Pad towers, a local New Mexico company, and representing for AT&T for this specific site.

The first tower required a variance required a setback of an 85-foot proposed monopole tower class three monopole with a foundation.

“This site is needed for coverage as well as capacity to offload one of several AT&T sites in the area,” Milks said. “Capacity is at an all-time high and the site that is at the bank building, which is located at 400 W. Pennsylvania Ave. is one of the biggest in the entire desert southwest. It is at capacity and we cannot add more spectrum or antennas.”

The towers would have collocation, which means being able to handle all of the wireless carriers like Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.

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“What we are trying to establish is building one site to accommodate all of the carriers, including the future needs,” Milks said. “We looked at several different locations, but this commercial lot is really fit for the area that we needed to cover.”

Winner, the other representative, said the towers are constructed in the safest design and are inspected annually.

Mike Waring, an AT&T FirstNet representative, said he was a former police captain.

FirstNet programs give AT&T $6.5 billion and 20 megahertz of telecommunications spectrum for the dedicated public safety network.

“I mentioned that last part of it because it is so important,” Waring said. “This project is for first-responders. Back when 9/11 attacks happened, 9/11 commission came and said a majority of the issues during the attacks had to do with the responders’ communications. FirstNet helped with that. In 2012, Congress initiated the legislation and funding for the first responding authority and network, known now as Source Net. Nine months ago, AT&T was awarded the contract. Back in August, in 2017, the state of the New Mexico opted in for that FirstNet initiative.

“These towers are important for the first-responders and because this network is dedicated specifically to first-responders around the west,” Waring said. “AT&T is putting in billions of dollars into infrastructure and building the towers to increase coverage around the United States and New Mexico. This is important to Roswell because this would give first-responders in Roswell (the ability) to communicate on their own private network dedicated to them.”

As the voice for the city, Planning Manager Bill Morris said it meets the standards and that he is pleased the tower is going to be engineered to allow for collocation and that it will make telecommunications better in Roswell for the future.

Mel Patterson, the city’s telecommunication consultant from the Center of Municipal Solutions was present to guide the discussion.

“I would just ask that you make sure that your variance for the setback include the specifics that we recommended,” Patterson said. “Which, is the class-three structural requirements, and that the loading does not exceed 90 percent of the tower’s capacity, and throughout its lifetime, not just for the initial configuration.

Patterson said if the conditions on the setback were followed, there would be no objection for the setback variance to be granted.

The variance was passed with a motion by Commissioner Dave Storey and Commissioner Toby Gross.

Proposed for the lot near Lovelace Regional Hospital, the second tower also will mirror the first tower.

“This site specifically has a heliport that is in the proximity of the hospital, the proposed site is 330 feet away,” said Milks. “Before we went through the process of zoning, we go through the Federal Aviation Administration, which is the governing body for cell towers as it relates to all of the helicopters, airplanes, stuff like that. We went through that process and we have a response back from the FAA (who) recognized no issues of the location of the tower.”

Milks said the helipad is private and has not been registered with the FAA. Milks said he was willing to discuss options to accommodate the city and ensure the towers are built for safety.

“The last thing we want to do is impede a helicopter,” Milks said.

Winner said that filing with the FAA helped the company learn about the helicopter’s flight path and his suggestion was to move the tower approximately 100 feet to the west.

Winner said the tower owners are willing to put a medium intensity strobe during the day, and then a single solid red light at night. The tower would have to be refiled as a lit structure in the interest of safety.

Merideth Hildreth, Planning and Zoning administrator, quoted a code regulating telecommunications towers visibility, which said telecommunications facilities should not be lighted or marked unless required by law.

Morris said it would be common sense to have it lit just because of a safety standpoint.

Mark Willard, the owner of the property, said the tower represents a good opportunity for him to lease the property and make the little space that is one lot into two.

The security supervisor at Lovelace Regional Hospital, Adam Barela, said his main concern is the safety.

“If you go ahead and make the decision to put it up, it would be great if we could make sure that it is lit,” Barela said. “There are times when we have people coming from Albuquerque, from Artesia, and they may not know that the tower is there. My main concern is the safety of our flight crew and the patients going in and out of that hospital.”

Mel Patterson said the prudent thing to do is for the hospital to file the flight plans with the FFA in accordance for maintaining safety for the approach.

“If the FAA, the hospital, and the applicant can agree on what is required, then I would not have any objections,” Patterson said.

Winner said refilling with FAA is a long process that they have seen before. Winner said it took 60 days just to receive a reply from the FAA.

“I could see it being 120-day process or even longer by the time they respond,” said Winner. “By moving the site, it really does (show) that is something we developed in response to the path.” Winner said it would be about 170 feet from the flight path. “Those power lines that Mel refers to are 45 feet tall. Trees in that are at 50 foot. The helicopters are there at the height they are going to have some other obstacles.”

Morris said over 12 years two medical choppers have crashed and that this subject is a relevant safety issue. Morris said all of the conditions could be written out before this is decided, so it is cleared, and we know exactly where it is, which would avoid tabling needing to table it to delay it another day.

Responding to Morris, Winner said again that refilling would be a long delay, but that it would not influence the construction schedule.

After this comment, Morris suggested to move the tower to the west, implement a light, and verify paperwork from the FAA.

The second tower would be 10 feet away from the east-side alley. The tower would have chainlink fencing or a wall around the base to match the stucco around the buildings.

The motion made by Commissioner Storey and a second from Commissioner Gross to approve the case.

The final decision was for the monopole would be moved to the west approximately 100 feet. The applicant would file again, submit plans back to Planning and Zoning commission, and make a packet with all of the current information.

The motion made by Commissioner Storey and a second from Commissioner Gross carried to approve the case.

City reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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