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Shores residents may finally get better cell service

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of June 4, 2015)

Frustrated cell phone users in Indian River Shores and elsewhere on the barrier island may get some relief in their dismal service by Christmas, if all goes smoothly with the process the Town has laid out.

After raising hopes (and flaring tempers) over numerous options for locations ranging from behind Town Hall to the Florida Tech Marine Lab at Tracking Station beach to Bee Gum Point to John’s Island, the town has decided to put out a formal request for new proposals.

Town Manager Robbie Stabe said he’ll be contracting with local firm NBB Engineering to draft the RFP at a cost of less than $2,000. Then it will take time to get proposals back, review and rank them, and finally choose a winning plan. The whole process, including obtaining whatever approvals or variances would be needed, will take months.

Though he’s had an initial meeting with a potential vendor and received information he deemed “very helpful,” Stabe said he did not feel comfortable going forward with a sole-source contract on the cell tower. “We need to definitely conduct an RFP for something of this magnitude and expense.”

The RFP will be fairly open-ended, meaning that the Town will not dictate where the tower would be placed but instead seek the technical advice of the bidder on the location.

Stabe asked, and received, direction to seek proposals “to place a stealth cell tower within the town on the town’s property or possible on private property.”

The desirability and feasibility of the proposed spot would be one of the criteria to be evaluated. But the town is hoping to have the tower erected on town property so the Shores could reap income from cellular service providers leasing capacity on the tower.

Vice Mayor Jerry Weick, who lives in Bermuda Bay which flanks the Town Hall and Public Safety complex, said, “I’m for a cell tower, but where it’s going to cause the least disruption. I’m concerned about property values.”

Mayor Brian Barefoot suggested that the Council hold a workshop once the proposals are submitted, and reminded the Council and the public that “whatever is being proposed will have to go before the Planning Zoning and Variance Board.”

Whatever and wherever it will be built, Stabe said it will be a “stealth” type tower such as a flagpole or faux tree to preserve architectural and aesthetic harmony with the rest of the Town.

Councilman Dick Haverland asked Stabe if, based upon his conversations over the years with various people in the cell phone tower business, the tower would be potentially lucrative for the town. Stabe said he thought it would.

“Why don’t we see what our options are? If it’s on town property it benefits every resident of the town,” Barefoot said.

The issue came to the forefront in 2012 when Stabe, then director of the Public Safety Department, came to the council with reports of dropped calls and problems with on-board computers in police cars not getting real-time information officers needed when on a call.

The Town ended up purchasing signal boosters for patrol cars to rectify the communication problem.  Many Shores residents have invested in signal boosters in an effort to use their cell phones inside their residences.

Recently, several Town Council members have said lack of reliable cell phone service is getting to be more of a problem as increasing numbers of residents rely on smart-phone technology. The problem becomes even worse for the younger generations who live, work and play on their phones and tablets, and often have abandoned land-line phones, council members said.