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No cell phone tower will go up behind Shores' town hall

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN, (Week of February 21, 2013)

Good news for Indian River Shores residents opposed to having a cell phone tower erected behind town hall:  It’s not happening. Shores Town Manager Richard Jefferson said a few days ago that cell phone boosters were working in police squad cars, eradicating the need for a new tower to strengthen the signal used by police computers and cell phones.

The only question remaining: What about a tower for the many Shores residents who can’t get decent cell phone reception in their homes?

American Tower, a cell-phone tower company in Deerfield Beach, is in the early stages of testing a possible site on the Florida Institute of Technology Marine Lab property, which is behind the 7-Eleven and CVS on A1A, at the southern boundary of Indian River Shores.

On a sunny day, Marine Lab site manager Nancy Pham walked across the property near the ocean behind the 7-Eleven and CVS. She passed tanks of pompano and cobia eggs and vats of aquarium plants and stopped at a grassy spot on the southwest portion of the property where she thinks the tower would go.  FIT would certainly be open to working out a deal, said Pham.

“I understand that the tower company would pay us rent and we’d like that, “she said.

Rebecca Merriman, project manager for American Tower Company in Deerfield, which is calculating how tall a tower would have to be for good cell phone service in the southern end of Indian River Shores, said AT&T had expressed an “enthusiastic interest” in using the tower, and Verizon might also join in.

“But,” she said, “there are a lot of obstacles to overcome first.”

Among them: Getting the permits needed to build a tower at the Marine Lab. While the property is within the boundaries of Indian River Shores, it is, nevertheless, county property.

County jurisdiction occurred decades ago when NASA, then the property owner, closed its tracking station and declared the land “surplus.” That’s when the county jumped in.

Which raises the question: Would residents of Indian River Shores have any say in whether a tower would go there, how tall it would be and what it would look like?

“I think we would,” said Shores Town Attorney Chester Clem.  “While that property is under county jurisdiction, it is still surrounded by property under the jurisdiction of Indian River Shores and we could control access.”

As of Feb. 18th, no pre-application for a cell tower on the lab property had been submitted to the county.