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WKYT Investigates UPDATE | Regulators clear way for cell tower, despite rural residents’ concerns

The new tower’s proposed location is right across the road from the current one.
State regulators have approved a telecommunications company’s request to build a second cell tower along a rural Pulaski County road.
Published: Feb. 4, 2022 at 10:41 AM EST
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - State regulators have approved, over the objections of several neighbors in the area, a telecommunications company’s request to build a second cell tower along a rural Pulaski County road.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission’s final order published Wednesday means that AT&T can move forward with its proposed 300+ foot tower on Happy Ridge Road in Nancy, right across the road from another wireless tower.

The decision is part of a flurry of final action in 13 separate cases this week, by which the PSC, in granting “Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity,” has cleared the way for AT&T to relocate to new towers already near their current ones in seven different counties. As of Friday morning, one more similar case is still pending.

The Pulaski County ruling amplified neighbors’ concerns, as WKYT Investigates reported in November, that they would have little say in a matter they believe could have large ramifications for their community.

“I hate to hear it,” John Burton said of the order, speaking with WKYT’s Garrett Wymer by phone on Wednesday afternoon. He and his neighbors remain concerned, Burton said, and he vowed to check into other avenues to prevent construction. “We’re not satisfied.”

[RELATED COVERAGE | WKYT Investigates: Rural residents fear having little say as more cell towers sprout]

Up until now, AT&T has been a tenant on a tower (owned by SBA Infrastructures) currently standing at 499 Happy Ridge Road. The approved location of their new tower (owned by Uniti Towers) will be just over 600 feet from the first.

The move will save them $5 million in rent over the next 20 years, AT&T said in documents filed with the state.

“The Commission acknowledges that SBA indicates through public comment that it offered to lower the rent on its existing tower; however, the Commission affords this comment little weight, given the timing and circumstances under which it was filed,” the PSC wrote in the final order announcing its decision.

The PSC went on to say that it has encouraged co-location (sharing towers) as the “preferred method” in providing wireless services, but that such an opportunity must be “reasonably available.”

“Unreasonably high rent or onerous conditions render such opportunities unreasonable,” the commission writes.

PSC records show that AT&T wants to move off of SBA towers in more than a dozen other places across Kentucky. In several of them, the new tower would be just over the length of a football field from the other one still standing.

[Zoom in on the embedded map to see approximate current tower locations and their proximities to the pending/approved new tower sites.]

AT&T attorneys have previously said that switching from those towers would save them more than $28 million over 20 years.

“[T]he Commission finds that while the proposed tower may result in duplication of facilities,” the PSC’s final order reads, “it is not wasteful duplication under Kentucky law.”

An AT&T spokesperson initially responded to WKYT’s request for comment on Wednesday afternoon, but, as of Friday morning, has not yet provided a statement.

“We work with local authorities to identify cell site locations that balance the needs of our business with the concerns of the community,” an AT&T spokesperson told WKYT Investigates in November. “We are relocating this particular site because we are committed to providing the best service and coverage for our customers in Pulaski County and were unable to renew our lease for the current location.”

In 13 cases so far - centered in Bath (2), Livingston, Metcalfe, Montgomery, Pulaski (3), Russell (3) and Wayne (2) counties - the PSC has granted Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity to AT&T to clear the way for relocation, largely along the same line of reasoning and even using much of the same language in each order.

The final case currently pending is from Metcalfe County.

Neighbors in Pulaski County had voiced their concerns throughout the process but said they still feel they have little say in the matter, given the regulatory environment for wireless companies - one that is designed “to promote competition and reduce regulation.”

Pulaski County, like many rural counties (including many areas where AT&T has proposed relocation), does not have planning and zoning regulations or specific regulations for cell towers. That means that “area residents have no reasonable expectation of input into the land use of surrounding properties or the impact a proposed land use will have on their property,” an AT&T attorney wrote in one filing with the PSC.

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