Cell tower disapproved for safety reasons
The Pratt County Planning and Zoning Commission voted to disapprove a proposal from AT&T to place a new cell service tower at the Pratt Regional Airport last month, but the issue will come before the Pratt County Commissioners again on January 27 as the telephone company continues to pursue the project north of the city of Pratt.
"It is not that the zoning board is against the tower," said Pratt County Emergency Management Director Tim Branscom. "It's just that placing it at the airport violates our safety standards, compromises airspace minimums and could create a hazard for pilots."
According to Randy Huitt, Fixed Base Operator for the Pratt Regional Airport, the proposed site location for the 260 ft. cell tower is directly in the downwind pattern for landing to the south.
"I understand that AT&T wants to improve service in this area and the closer to the service area the tower is placed, the better the service will be, but we cannot compromise the safety of our pilots. It's just not the right location."
Branscom said engineers hired by AT&T had determined that the Pratt Regional Airport was the best location for the tower, as it would be able to marry up with other towers, improving and extending the coverage area, but planning and zoning board members disagreed.
At the December meeting, president of the planning and zoning board Morgan Trinkle, did not participate in the discussion as he said he farmed land around the proposed site of the tower. Vice-president of the board Rick Shriver, presided over the discussion during which several area pilots took to the floor to express their opinions on the tower placement.
"The Pratt Army Airfield was established in 1942 and turned over to the city of Pratt in 1945 at the conclusion of WWII," said Pratt County pilot Larry Fenwick. "Since that time, almost 75 years ago, the airfield has been a part of the general aviation community of Pratt and has contributed in many ways to the business economy of Pratt and the surrounding areas. Throughout these years the airfield has faced many challenges to remain a safe and viable asset to serve the flying public. While the patrons and pilots of the airfield are all pro business and want to see Pratt continue to grow and prosper, this proposal by AT&T to erect a 260 ft tower in the downwind traffic pattern for landing to the south on runway 17 could put a potential flight safety risk to all pilots and passengers that just seems unnecessary. We respectfully suggest that a better location away from the airport could be found to erect the tower which could still serve the customers of AT&T. Our primary concern is the safety of all aviators and passengers who fly in and out of the airport."
Safety concerns were also expressed by more than 10 guests in attendance at the December meeting, after which the eight members of the planning and zoning commission voted to disapprove the proposal.
Branscom said that the issue will come before the Pratt County Commissioners at their January 27 meeting, during which they have two options.
"The commissioners can one, follow the recommendation of the planning and zoning board and disapprove the proposal, or two, they can override the local board and allow the tower, based on a required variance in the proposal," he said.
Even if the measure is disapproved by the county, AT&T could take the issue to court to win their choice of tower placement in the county, however Branscom said a variance would have to require the tower to be less than 200 ft. tall in total to meet airport and FAA safety requirements.
The Pratt County Commission meeting on January 27, at which the issue has been placed on the agenda for discussion, takes place at 5 p.m. and is an open meeting to the public, as are all county commission meetings.