Last week’s Guest Commentary from the Ouray County Board of Commissioners regarding the Verizon Tower was submitted “in an effort to make the facts available and allow citizens to form their conclusions based upon fact and not misrepresentations.” I support that effort and would like to point out a few additional facts that will help citizens to draw their own conclusions. But before diving into the facts, I’ll submit my opinion….I believe the Commissioners made a good-faith effort to follow due process and receive input in making a difficult decision. Unfortunately, they did almost all of the right things but came to the wrong conclusion. The BOCC approved the Special Use Permit and variance for the tower on the premise that “…the health, safety and welfare of the residents and visitors of Ouray County is paramount.” (See BOCC Resolution 2009-022) and therefore supports overriding the subdivision’s covenants as well as the county’s visual impact regulations. Unfortunately the plan as currently defined does not ensure a reliable public safety communications system.
In its commentary, the BOCC stated that the process “provided ample time for public input.” However, it was only by spending a significant amount of time and effort reviewing minutes, studying exhibits, and attending court hearings that I was able to understand the situation more fully. So, like the BOCC, I also “encourage interested persons to avail themselves of the minutes and transcriptions of the various public hearings in order to better understand the process that occurred.” It was only by doing so that I was able to uncover the following additional key facts.
1. The data presented at the public hearings was misleading in that the improved coverage maps were not that of anticipated improvements of the county’s VHF radio, but rather that of Verizon’s cell phone service. Also, the coverage maps for the state’s “800 MHz” radio system shows almost no improvement resulting from the proposed plan.
2. There are no less than seven (7) entities with radio equipment located at the planned site and there is no frequency management plan in place to insure that the emergency communications equipment is given top priority and operates without interference from other radio sources.
3. Interference from some unknown source(s) has previously caused interruption to the county’s system.
4. The sublease agreement between Verizon and the county gives priority to Verizon's cell phone service over that of the county’s VHF emergency system in the event of interference between the two systems.
The above is only a partial list of additional facts that I’ve discovered which lead me to the following conclusion. The county gets a low cost plan to modify the public safety communications system, which may or may not yield improvements going forward. Yet there is a very real cost to those individuals that will be impacted by this outsized monstrosity in their neighborhood.
Many of the pertinent facts only came to light after the decision was made. I believe that if the BOCC had it to do over, they might come to a different decision. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to put this genie back in the bottle. They missed a valuable opportunity to do just that when Verizon did a “bait and switch” on the design and increased the size of the tower significantly from that of the approved drawings.
There is more to come. The next trial date is January 25 at the Ouray County Courthouse were a judge will decide if the property owner of the parcel in question is violating the subdivision’s covenants. I encourage all interested parties to attend. Maybe this genie can be re-bottled yet.
– D. Michaud, Ouray County