Commissioners approve Parks Mill cell tower, table a second request

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By Nick Nunn staff writer

The Morgan County Board of Commissioners (BOC) tabled a conditional use request for the construction of a 195-foot cell tower near the corner of Highway 441 and Seven Islands Road on tax parcel 055-044A. The applicant, RETEL Services on behalf of New Cingular Wireless, LLC, requested the conditional use permit in order to deal with an area of low service.

Lonnie Greene, representative for RETEL Services explained to the BOC that AT&T customers were not able to receive cell phone signals in the area surrounding the proposed tower location. Chris Peotrowski, a property owner near the proposed cell tower site, argued that, since Verizon customers in that area receive signals, AT&T should be able to colocate one of their antennas on an existing cell tower.

“Why does AT&T need a 150-foot tower… when Verizon wireless can provide adequate coverage with three 90-foot towers?” asked Peotrowski. Greene stated that Verizon and AT&T use different provider technologies on different frequencies, so an outright comparison of the tower needs of the two providers is not applicable. Commissioner Phillip Clack asked Morgan County Planner Tara Cooner if there were towers in the area that the applicant could use for colocation.

Cooner responded that no such towers were found after a search was made of the area before the application was processed. Peotrowski stated that the BOC should want to know why the technologies differ enough to prevent colocation if there are additional towers in the area. Commissioner Ellen Warren made a motion to table the application until further research could be done, and the motion passed on a 3-1 vote with Commissioner Donald Harris dissenting. However, the BOC approved a conditional use permit for RETEL Services for the construction of a 250-foot lattice-design cell tower at 3931 Parks Mill Road in order to deal with a lack of AT&T service in the area.

The BOC also voted to move forward with an employee wellness program, which will partner the county with the Morgan County Health Department and the county’s insurance broker, Northwestern Mutual, in order to improve the health of the county’s employees and act towards the reduction of the county’s long-term healthcare costs.

The plan proposes contracting with the Health Department in order to provide health screenings for health insurance eligible employees, costing the county up to $38 per employee or $6,500 for the budget year. The Health Department will also provide individual consultations for employees and offer health and lifestyle classes. Employees declining participation in the program will be charged an additional $10 monthly for their health insurance.

Leah Ainslie, Nurse Practitioner at the Morgan County Health Department, gave the board a brief presentation on the Health Department’s many services, including immunization, stroke and heart attack prevention, children’s services, pregnancy and newborn care, family planning, community outreach, and emergency preparedness. Ainslie also added that many of the Health Department’s services are available for free or at reduced costs, depending on a person’s income and insurance.

The BOC decided to postpone a decision on a $39,500 agreement with Baldwin County for part-time inmate cleanup in Morgan County. Roads and Bridges Supervisor Greg Pennington stated that the quality of work done by inmates is influenced by several factors and is often of less value than the amount the county pays for it. Based on Pennington’s assessment, County Manager Michael Lamar stated that he has “some real reservations” about entering the agreement too hastily.

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