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Environmental Reports, More Public Input Coming to Tall Tower Siting

Interim tower siting regs to affect towers above 450 feet in height

The birds vs. towers issue has taken another step.

The FCC has released interim regulations governing tower siting that it says strike a balance between protecting migratory birds and the needs of industries that want to build communication towers.

For years, broadcast engineers generally have said there’s no proof that towers kill migratory birds, noting that they haven’t seen piles of dead birds at the base of towers. Environmentalists disagree, saying towers, lights and guy wires pose a deadly threat.

In 2006, the commission asked for comments on the issue. Now the agency says evidence in the record suggests the likely impact of towers on migratory birds increases with tower height.

As attorneys predicted at the fall Radio Show, towers over 450 feet in height will face more scrutiny, including the need to conduct an environmental assessment and allowing the public time to comment on where a new tower would be sited before construction, such as publishing a newspaper notice or by going through a local zoning public notice process.

An environmental notice is also required if an applicant changes the lighting of an existing tower “to a less preferred” style, according to the agency in its decision.

There is no official lighting ranking yet, however the commission says recommendations from federal wildlife protection agencies suggest that L-810 steady-burning red lights pose the greatest risk to migratory birds, and the differences among flashing and blinking lights are not statistically significant.

The FAA may soon allow red flashing or blinking lights without steady-burning L-810s, according to the FCC, which eventually intends to rank tower lighting in its final regulations. It did not say when it expects the final regulations to be completed. The issue has been simmering at the FCC since Michael Powell was chairman.

The Wireless Bureau will issue a notice that establishes when the interim regulations will take effect. Pending applications for towers on that date won’t be required to complete the environmental notification process, however applications submitted after that date would need to go through the AE process.

Nearly four years ago, a federal appeals court told the FCC its tower registration procedures fell short of meeting its responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The interim regulations address those responsibilities, said the commission.

Outgoing Commissioner Michael Copps said he was encouraged the interim rules will give the public more opportunity to register their concerns about migratory birds “when a tower goes up.”