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FCC Says American Tower is Free to Build

Case is first to be decided under new environmental assessment tower regs

The FCC has decided a case in favor of American Tower Corp., the first such decision since the commission’s new migratory bird-sensitive tower rules went into effect last month.

Environmental assessments are now required for proposed new towers over 450 feet above ground level, for replacement or modification of existing structures over 450 feet that involve a major size increase or for certain lighting changes to towers over 450 feet tall.

The case, between American Tower and Michael Pearson of Marshall, Ark., is significant for insight as to how the agency will handle these cases going forward.

Pearson raised several issues this April related to a 314-foot structure registered to American Tower that was under construction in Marshall, Ark. AT suspended construction while the “Emergency Petition to Compel Compliance” was reviewed.

Pearson lives near the site. He alleged AT began construction without public notice, that the site provided to the agency is wrong and the site is unmarked. AT submitted its environmental material that it had prepared before beginning the build.

The FCC said in its decision that the tower site is correct.

Because the tower would be in woods and pasture land within 4,000 feet of a wildlife management area, Pearson alleged the tower would negatively affect migratory birds and endangered species like mountain lions, bobcats and skunks.

The FCC said his complaint did not meet the standard for requesting environmental review. Pearson didn’t identify endangered species that could be specifically affected by the tower; rather he had listed nonendangered species in the area.

The proximity of a tower to a wildlife management area does not, by itself, mean that a structure may have a significant effect on the environment, according to the agency, which denied this portion of the petition.

In the pre-application environmental assessment conducted for American Tower by Environmental Corp. of America, the company acknowledged the structure would be located in a migratory bird flyway and lit with red-steady lights.

However, the tower would be under 450-feet tall and would not use guy wires.

According to the FCC’s new environmental assessment rules for towers, those “with guy wires result in higher levels of avian mortality than towers without guy wires” and further studies have not shown significant bird deaths at towers less than 450-feet tall.

The commission also didn’t find Pearson’s argument about RF exposure to be credible.

American Tower has complied with the commission’s environmental rules and is now free to resume construction, said the FCC.