By Lena Moriarty
With Wrightsville Beach seeing state approval of several new cell towers on state rights-of-way, the Wrightsville Beach Board of Alderman discussed how it could influence the appearance and potential location of these towers. The new towers were one of two telecommunications projects expected to improve service throughout Wrightsville Beach, while also bringing with them several new towers, as well as construction in the South Harbor Island neighborhood.
At the Jan. 11 board meeting, the aldermen asked Town Attorney John Wessel what options it had in regulating the proposed new towers after he said several new applications were coming. The North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation in July that allows the Department of Transportation to approve small cell tower facilities in state highway rights-of-way, despite objections from local authorities.
“It’s an astounding number of towers,” Wessel said. “The issue is we have little authority to say no.”
During the meeting, the aldermen were presented a plan from telecommunication provider Fibertech to replace an existing 24-foot utility pole on East Salisbury Street near Johnny Mercer’s Pier with a 43-foot small cell tower. The new tower will be fitted with a street light while also providing increased wireless phone and internet service on the beach.
It’s the third new cell tower proposal for Wrightsville Beach since the bill was passed in July, with the DOT having already granted approval for towers near the intersection of Waynick Boulevard and Bellamy Street and in the right-of-way near the Heidi Trask Drawbridge.
Some aldermen raised concerns over the appearance of the towers and how they would affect views on Wrightsville Beach.
“I’m just concerned about those that obstruct views on residential property,” said alderman Elizabeth King. “Residents don’t want to wake up and see that in their view the next day.”
Wessel told the board that it could have more influence over the look and possible placement of the towers if it passes an ordinance addressing cell tower appearance. Wessel and Town Manager Tim Owens said they were evaluating options on what type of ordinance the town could pass.
“The best thing we can do right now is take the laws that have been handed to us and try to reconfigure them,” alderman Ken Dull said.
Meanwhile, the board asked Wessel to improve an agreement with AT&T that would allow the telecommunications provider the ability to bore trenches and lay fiber underneath town rights-of-way in the South Harbor Island neighborhood. The project will bore underneath the live oaks on Live Oak Drive and create construction on other nearby streets, including Sunset Avenue, Coral Drive and Auditorium Circle.
While the agreement would reimburse the town for any damages to its facilities caused by AT&T’s construction, the board asked Wessel to strengthen protections for private property owners.
Owens described AT&T as being “very aggressive” with configuring a deal and starting operations. The company has agreed to use an arborist of the board’s choosing.