Ocean View studies radio towers

Someone is raising a 50-foot-tall ham radio tower in Ocean View, less than a block away from town hall. But while some of the neighbors have expressed concerns about its appearance, not even town hall has much say in governing amateur radio operators.

Ocean View Town Council Member Eric Magill (a neighbor himself) mentioned the work in progress at a recent work session, Sept. 20.

“Checking into the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) regulations, we can’t prevent someone from erecting a tower,” Magill pointed out.

The Web site, (http://wireless.fcc.gov), references a 1985 commission benchmark ruling, titled “PRB-1,” and governing “federal preemption of state and local regulations pertaining to amateur radio facilities.”

The FCC has reviewed that original ruling a few times over the years — as subsequently clarified, residents abiding by homeowners’ association rules, or “Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions” (CC&R) don’t enjoy quite the same insulation from local ordinances.

However, for the average citizen, PRB-1 suggests federal FCC regulations rule the day when it comes to ham radio. (The Federal Aviation Administration adds a few regulations to towers over 200 feet tall).

From PRB-1, here’s the rationale: “The cities, counties, and local communities and housing associations see an obligation to all of their citizens and try to address their concerns. This is accomplished through regulations, ordinances or covenants oriented toward the health, safety and general welfare of those they regulate.

“At the opposite pole are the individual amateur operators and their support groups who are troubled by local regulations which may inhibit the use of amateur stations or, in some instances, totally preclude amateur communications.

“Aligned with the operators are such entities as the Department of Defense, the American Red Cross and local civil defense and emergency organizations who have found in Amateur Radio a pool of skilled radio operators and a readily available backup network.”

Ocean View Board of Adjustment Member Bill Olsen attended the workshop, and offered some additional information. According to Olsen, certain types of tower could indeed pose a danger to public safety — particularly the models that featured cross-struts, and had a very ladder-like appearance.

Olsen compared these structures to backyard swimming pools — dangerously appealing to young children wandering the neighborhood. Magill recommended the town look into an ordinance to require either fencing around the base of the tower, or an “anti-climb” device.

Aesthetic issues remained, but Olsen said most ham operators placed their towers in the back yard, at least partially screened from the street. His own antenna was mounted atop a flagpole, Olsen said, but he said some operators simply placed their antennas in the attic of their homes. “A lot of times, you never even notice them,” he pointed out.

And Department of Defense backing aside, he said ham operators had a reputation for volunteering to help with communications at all manner of community events. Most recently, he said about 30 Sussex Amateur Radio Association (SARA) club members had assisted with communications at the Sea Colony Make-A-Wish Triathlon.

Olsen said he hadn’t been able to make it that day, but in a more general sense, he illustrated ham operators’ contribution as an emergency backup. Every summer, SARA members hold a “field day,” when they hustle to get communications up and running under staged emergency conditions — erecting a new tower against the clock, for instance.

“Usually, whenever there’s an emergency, the power goes out, and no one can communicate,” Olsen pointed out. While cellular phones might pick up the slack for a time, surging usage could overload those systems, he added — most ham operators had generators, though, and could keep communications flowing.

In other business, council unanimously voted to support fellow Sussex County Association of Towns (SCAT) members, with a $5,000 donation to help towns impacted by Hurricane Katrina.

As Town Manager Kathy Roth pointed out, some municipalities had lost their governmental buildings, and libraries – SCAT was considering support through an “Adopt-A-Town” program, she said.

Council also signed off on the massive bid package for the nearly $4 million police station — once Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader does likewise, the town will move forward to pre-bid meetings with interested contractors.

And Mayor Gary Meredith announced the results of a recent town survey — he said he’d been surprised by overwhelming support for the idea of a town shuttle to the beach. As Roth elaborated, 618 respondents were very or somewhat interested, versus 159 not very or not at all interested. Town resident Ken Jones gave a presentation on this topic last December, and council determined the level of interest suggested the idea warranted further study.

Meredith also reminded everyone to pass the word regarding an Oct. 1 meeting at town hall at 10 a.m., where he hoped residents would come to sign off on construction and utility easements, paving the way for the town’s new central water system.