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Challenged Vanderpool cell tower gets relocated

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Posted: Wednesday, August 23, 2017 12:00 pm

A dispute between Vanderpool area landowners and a contractor that wanted to install a 250-foot cell phone tower near their homes has been eliminated now that the contractor has chosen an alternate location for the transmission tower.

Jared Ledet, chief operating officer for Branch Communications, said he identified an existing tower owned by American Tower almost four miles south of the contested site near Foster Ranch and Thompson roads that would be a suitable option, and the primary tenant for the tower, T-Mobile, agreed.

It was not the best possible site for T-Mobile because its transmission capabilities won’t extend as far north as originally envisioned, Ledet said. But by using an existing tower, T-Mobile can begin transmitting its signal sooner than it would have from a tower that needed to be built and can avoid the problems associated with having a tower close to homes that was raised at the contested site, said Ledet.

The decision demonstrated T-Mobile’s willingness to be a good community partner and to “doing the right thing” when it came to the community’s concerns, he added.

“My goal was to find a compromise that would be acceptable and still let our landlord benefit from the business side of things,” said Ledet. “It was a good compromise made by all sides.”

Landowners in the Vanderpool area that had petitioned against the original site were pleased by the change and the willingness of Branch and T-Mobile to consider their concerns.

“I do think they’ve got a heart,” said Nancy Thompson, a former Bandera County commissioner whose family has owned property around the Foster Ranch site for generations and who helped take the landowners’ appeal to Bandera County Commissioners’ Court, the Federal Communications Commission and the public.

But she and other critics still felt that they raised valid environmental concerns about drainage problems, possible water contamination issues and the safety of those living near the contested tower, concerns that regulators could not ignore.

“The activism of the community paid off,” said Jeff Braun, who owns a home within 200 feet of the contested tower site.

That activism was expressed in 15 petitions opposing the Foster Ranch site that were filed with the FCC and a petition drive against the original site that was signed by more than 3,700 people.

“I think our arguments and perspectives were valid from a variety of perspectives,” said Braun.

But he also acknowledged that the landowners were “fortunate that we had a company that listened.”  Braun said last week that opponents of the original site were waiting for Branch to officially withdraw its petition for the tower on Foster Ranch. He considered that a mere “technicality.”

The opponents of the Foster Ranch site took their complaints to Bandera County commissioners on July 27 and won support for their right to protest the matter to the FCC.  Commissioners also expressed frustration that they had no power to exercise authority over developments like the location of a cell tower.

Oddly, the site of the existing tower that is now being proposed for T-Mobile is on B and R Road on a tract leased by County Commissioner Jordan Rutherford.  Rutherford said he was not involved in the discussions that led the relocation of the tower and was surprised that was where it ended up.

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