Bethany’s consideration of AT&T antenna proposal on hold for now

While AT&T appeals a Sussex County Board of Adjustments decision not to permit a cellular antenna tower on a parcel just south of Bethany Beach town limits, and as a temporary tower remains on the site pending that appeal, the company has asked the Bethany Beach Town Council to consider allowing it to install its antennas on the town’s water standpipe off Collins Street.

But council members said this week that they’re not ready to even discuss the matter.

During a council workshop on Oct. 17, council members were of the consensus that AT&T, and technology company Velocitel on its behalf, had failed to provide the council with requested information detailing exactly what the proposed installation of as many as a dozen antennas would mean for the town and its water facility.

“I’m not sure we have received all the information we asked for so we could enjoin in conversation with all the information at hand,” said Mayor Tony McClenny. “I’ve got a contract and a cover letter, but no pictures, diagrams or dimensions.”

Town Manager Cliff Graviet did clarify that the town had received, late last week, a limited set of pictures showing a representative installation.

“This would involve welds to the tank itself,” Graviet noted. “And I’d like to see something our engineer can review to advise us what might be the impact on the tank.”

Graviet said he had asked Velocitel, which approached the Town on AT&T’s behalf, to provide a boilerplate agreement for the town hosting the equipment, as well as detailed engineering information and more specifics on the installation, which will include not only the dozen 6-foot-tall 4G-type antennas but a 12-by-20-foot space near the water tank for equipment to be housed.

He said that, in a subsequent conversation with the company, he had been told that it was not their practice to get into that sort of detail until they had a relatively firm commitment from the host jurisdiction – Bethany Beach, in this case – owing to the financial commitment involved.

“My personal opinion is we don’t have much to look at,” McClenny said Monday of what the Town had received. “I would suggest we postpone discussion until we have more detail. I can’t imagine what something larger would look like with this picture,” he said of the image provided, which depicted an installation of 4-foot-tall 3G-type antennas.

Graviet said he believed the potential impact of the installation on the town’s water tank was likely to be more of a concern than the antennas themselves. “They do have magnetic arrays, but I don’t know how that would work, with the winds here.”

Councilman Joe Healy reiterated his concerns about the security impacts of allowing an outside company access not only to the town’s water storage tank but the facility at which the town processes its water.

“I’m not in favor of putting something else in there that would allow access for outsiders into the facility. I would have to be convinced. Security is sacrosanct to me,” he said.

Councilwoman Margaret Young noted she had contacted other local communities that house antenna arrays atop their water tanks, and they had said there was only rarely a need for people to go to the site to work on the equipment, with no noise or complaints reported. But Graviet pointed out that the situation in those cases is different from what is being proposed in Bethany Beach.

“These are storage towers,” he said. “Our facility is the place where we process our water to make it potable, with open lagoons and a number of other features they don’t deal with.”

Councilman Lew Killmer said he was also concerned that the town would have to take its water system offline during the installation, either to make the needed welds possible or for a post-installation inspection.

“They would probably want divers in the tank at least two times,” Graviet supplied.

McClenny suggested that while the council could put the issue on the agenda of a future council meeting for discussion and a vote, “Since we don’t have everything we thought we would have, let’s move on to our next item.” He noted, too, “I’m not hearing a lot of support here today.”

The council put the issue on hold, at least until it is provided with the information council members feel they need to make a decision.