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Commissioners lend support to Vanderpool residents

By Bev Barr BCC Editor

Vanderpool residents presented the commissioners with an aerial view of the proposed tower location and its proximity to homes in close vicinity.

Editors note: Jared Ledet, chief operating officer for Branch Towers, LLC., will be visiting the area next week to follow up on two alternate site locations for the proposed telecommunications tower.
“We are committed to exploring viable options and are proceeding with normal protocol,” Ledet said. “We want a site that is the best solution for the community, and a good business decision, too — one that is true to the quality of service consumers and business partners expect.”
Ledet will also meet with people in the community so that they may adequately express their concerns directly to him. Final details are forthcoming.

The gallery was packed at the commissioners court meeting Thursday, July 27, primarily with county residents eager to hear and lend support to Vanderpool residents pleading for immediate assistance and action from the court in their effort to appeal a process with the FCC regarding a proposed 260-foot (79.2 meters) cell phone tower to be built near Foster Ranch Road and Thompson Road near Vanderpool. Branch Towers, LLC, published a public notice in the Bandera County Courier on June 29, and perhaps other small papers, but the public notice went unnoticed by many people in the county.
The residents spoke for close to 2 hours, each speaker in turn representing a slightly different angle of concern.
Nancy Thompson, of Thompson Ranch Realty, started things off by stating that she and her neighbors had “come in good faith, and good friendship.” Thompson and her extended family have lived in Bandera County going back as far as 1852, and she, her late husband and her father-in-law have all served on the Bandera County Commissioners Court. Thompson took the opportunity to emphasize that what the residents were asking for fell within the commissioners’ authority. She expressed a desire that rural Texans be extended the same protections and rights by law that urban residents — those that live in counties with populations of at least 1.8 million — enjoy.
Nancy’s son, Steve Thompson, spoke next, and acknowledged the challenge of balancing individual property rights with the need to preserve and protect Bandera County’s natural, rural environment.
“We need checks and balances at the local level,” Mr. Thompson said, urging the commissioners to consider passing ordinances that would require developers to pick “good sites” and proceed with “due diligence.”
Mr. Thompson elaborated on why he thinks the proposed site is a bad site: It’s prone to flooding, becomes a boggy, marsh; a fragile watershed, and is inherently unstable because of subsurface faults. Runoff rain water will be diverted because of the construction, but the effects of that diversion are not known.
Marla Maudlin’s home is one of the homes closest to the proposed tower site. “If it falls, it would fall on our property, our house, or our barn,” Maudlin said. She described a phone call with a representative of the company hired by T Mobile to build the tower — Branch Towers, LLC. The employee said that there were no houses in the area and that the tower would raise property values. Maudlin asked how they figured that, and the employee said, “Because now it will be commercial property.”
Jada Jo Baker, a real estate agent, discussed the effect this tower would have on the tax base, because every one of those homes would be depreciated in value. She described the effort it took to finally own property next to the pristine Sabinal River, and the importance of the aesthetics of that setting to her. She said that if the tower is built on the proposed site, she would see the blinking red lights out her kitchen window.
Other concerns: potential health risks of the electromagnetic energy field; and what it would mean to the 5 private airstrips within close proximity.
John Maudlin’s primary concern was that it will be “so close. Fifty feet off of my property line.”
Maudlin expressed concern about flooding and described the likelihood of debris being caught in the fence causing the tower to fall down. He said the landowners pasture is cluttered with trucks, cars and dead equipment that was deposited there when it flooded the last time.
Melody and Jeff Braun were admittedly emotional about the situation and described the shock they felt when they discovered the reality and the possibility of the situation Saturday, July 22. The Brauns live in Houston and are just a few weeks away from completing a home being built in Vanderpool. They happened to be meeting with the contractor when they noticed people digging on the property across the road and asked what they were doing.
They learned that it was an archeological group looking for historically significant artifacts that, if found, might render the location inappropriate for development. This dig is to comply with one of several requirements required by the FCC before an approval of the site, in this case to ensure that the construction project doesn’t disrupt or destroy historical and archeologically significant locations, such as those pertaining to Native Americans.
If the Brauns had not happened to be at their property that day, they could easily have been moving into their new home when they discovered the construction, the thought of which brought Melody to tears — and choked up several people seated in the gallery. One person later described it as “painful.”
Jeff Braun told the court he didn’t sleep well due to preparing his remarks. He pleaded with the court to step up to the obligations of being good stewards and to be responsible to taxpaying citizens. Commissioner Rutherford asked if anyone had contacted the landowner or the company. Braun confirmed that he had reached out to both. Rutherford offered to reach out to the landowner as well and was willing to try and mediate the situation.
Shelby Baetz shared her concern for the habitat, endangered, threatened and otherwise fragile species, and reminded commissioners about the value of eco-tourism. She stated that she held “zero hope” that the company would cooperate unless they had to, underscoring the point by forming the numerical digit representing “no value” with thumb and fingers of her right hand.
After listening to residents, Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution in consent form supporting residents’ rights to petition the Federal Communications Commission to do a more thorough assessment of the potential impact of this tower on the environment.
Judge Evans encouraged the residents to approach the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District with concerns about the threat to the Sabinal River and the potential threat to the quality of well water.
“Everyone of ya,’ contact your state senator,” said Commissioner Bobby Harris of Precinct 2. “I’ll even use the “B” word — Boycott T Mobile. Let them know you’re serious.”
In other matters, Special Ambassador Elinora Dugosh Goodley will travel with her daughter at her expense to the Ukraine and celebrate the 26th anniversary of Ukraine Independence in Bandera’s sister city.
Patricia Moore of the Bandera County Visitor’s Bureau provided a detailed, quarterly financial report. And for budgetary purposes, the federated library system agreed to split a block grant equally among themselves. And the court resumed working on and tweaking the annual budget.