Town Council tables Union cell-on-wheels extension

Cali O'Hare file photo

Council expresses frustration at delays in tower project

PINEDALE – The Pinedale Town Council unanimously passed a motion to table an application submitted by Union Wireless to operate a cell-on-wheels (COW) tower in Pinedale for a third consecutive year at its Oct. 10 meeting.

Union Wireless is operating the cell-on-wheels as a communications hub while it undergoes the permit process to construct a permanent macrocell tower in Pinedale. 

The council initially granted Union permission to place its COW inside town limits in 2020, said Abram Pearce, director of public works. A COW is allowed on commercially zoned property for up to one year, he added.

Union’s request for a renewal was approved in September 2021, with the agreement terminating on Sept. 28, 2022, Pearce told the council. Town staff received Union’s request for a second renewal extending the COW’s timeline for a third year the week before the Oct. 10 council meeting, he said.

Realizing at the “11th hour” that the COW’s permit expired with no permanent tower in place, Union Wireless hoped the town would grant it another year to operate the COW, said company representative Tyler Tholl.

Councilman Tyler Swafford, acting as mayor pro tempore, directed Union to return to the drawing board, communicate with town staff and return in two weeks with a stronger permit application containing “real benchmarks” to bring the tower project to fruition.

Swafford expressed frustration over delays in the project. A COW is only permitted as a temporary structure under town code, Swafford emphasized.

The existence of a COW for more than one year “lends the town to fines,” Swafford said.

“It’s disappointing that one year turned into two (years) and now we’re past the second year looking into a third year,” Swafford told Tholl.

Tholl responded that he took over responsibility for macrocell technology in Pinedale at the end of February and was still “wrapping his head” around town code and compliance issues related to towers.

Swafford said he appreciated the fact Tholl was new to the project, yet the town needs Union to commit to “binding milestones” ensuring that a permanent tower replaces the COW as soon as possible, Swafford said.

The town also requested that Union Wireless “clear up” two years of missing franchise fees, Swafford added.

A third concern was the site for a permanent tower. Town code restricts where towers inside town limits are allowed, Swafford told the Roundup. Union had yet to disclose a proposed space for its permanent tower, he added, and town staff needed time to “vet the site” to ensure it “matched town code.”

Removing the COW could negatively impact cellphone coverage in Pinedale, Tholl said.

Swafford replied the town’s intent was not to take the COW down and disrupt service for constituents.

“We need to find a way to meet constructively in the middle” to bring the project to a timely resolution, he said.

Tholl said Union Wireless did not intend to make excuses and that the completion of a permanent tower “is a priority at this point.”

Councilwoman Judi Boyce asked Tholl to pinpoint the reason for the delay in building a permanent tower.

“I don’t know, to be honest with you,” he said. “I don’t know if it was the amount of work my department had and maybe it wasn’t handed off to other employees in time. The bottom line is that we didn’t get on top of what we needed to in a timely manner.”

Councilman Dean Loftus inquired about the timeline to erect a permanent tower.

Union Wireless is required to ensure that its permit application for a permanent tower meets town and federal regulations before construction can begin, Tholl responded, a process that typically takes five months. Acquiring the necessary permits would push the project past the town’s dig restriction, he added.

As a result, construction is not expected to begin until next spring when “weather allows,” Tholl explained. The typical building time for a permanent macrocell tower was around 60 days, he added.

Town staff received Union Wireless’ permit application to install a permanent tower to replace the COW, Pearce confirmed. Because town code related to towers is “very restrictive,” the review period by town staff takes time, he said.

The application must go before the Planning and Zoning Commission for public hearing before being presented to the town council, Pearce explained.

“This is not a short process,” Pearce said.

Town staff planned to consult with Bob Mnuchin of River Oaks Communications on the permanent tower application, Pearce remarked. Mnuchin is an expert in federal tower regulations and helped the town draft ordinances related to communications towers, Pearce told the Roundup.

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