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A satisfactory solution of towering proportions

By Bev Barr BCC Editor

Signs protesting the tower placed at the entrance to Foster Ranch Road off FM 187. Jada Baker, a resident and real estate broker created the signs in advance of the Branch Towers site visit.

Residents can celebrate, T-Mobile will use existing tower

One week ago, Aug. 10, the Chief Operating Officer of Branch Towers, LLC — Jared Ledet — visited Vanderpool for the first time and saw the specific site his company chose on which to build a 260-foot cell phone tower. He met with about 15 Vanderpool residents in person and listened to their concerns. He communicated via telephone or email with residents who could not be present at a Thursday morning meeting. With his own boots on the ground, Jared Ledet explored all options in person – not just via Google Earth. He concluded that the originally proposed site near Foster Ranch Road and Thompson Road was not the best choice for the cell phone tower, and that there were at least four other good options.
Ledet presented T-Mobile with 4 alternate locations — 3 of which would require building a new tower and one option that would use an existing tower located on B & R Road, approximately 4 ½ miles southeast of the originally proposed site.
On Tuesday, Aug. 15, T-Mobile made the decision to forego developing the originally proposed site and chose to implement the existing infrastructure option. Ledet sent a thoughtful letter via email to residents with T-Mobile’s decision, some of the thoughts behind the decision and Ledet’s reaction to his experience meeting with Vanderpool residents. (See page 4)
“Vanderpool has benefitted from the flexibility of a major carrier,” Ledet said. “My job as a valued partner to T-Mobile is all about me understanding all of the options and for me to be flexible — just as T-Mobile has exemplified this week.”
Ledet said that the new location isn’t exactly what T-Mobile wanted, inasmuch as the cell phone coverage level will have significant shortfalls — but that it was still a satisfactory concession. The desire to be a good community partner and a good neighbor is very important to both T-Mobile and Branch Towers.
“I think this is a very rare instance where a company has gone the extra mile to listen to the community, and they actively sought an amicable solution,” said homeowner Jeff Braun. “Jared has been exceedingly available and responsive to us at every stage. I’m very leased with the outcome. I don’t have enough kind words to say.”
Prior to Ledet’s visit, landowners filed at least 15 formal petitions with the Federal Communications Commission outlining numerous environmental concerns and requesting more comprehensive study of the proposed site. Residents were shocked and angry about the proposed location because of its proximity to the Sabinal River, an ecologically sensitive area that is home to several endangered species of birds, including the Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Black-capped Vireo.
The protesters also launched a Change.org on-line petition that garnered more than 1800 signatures. The petition asked Branch Towers and T-Mobile to find an alternate site in order to protect the sensitive Lost Maples Region.
Water is and will always be a big issue for residents of this region. The area is home to many underground springs that feed the Sabinal River. Some residents contend that concrete anchors necessary to secure a 260-foot-tower would have to be driven deep underground, potentially cracking the bedrock and disrupting the flow of the springs, thus posing a risk to private water wells.
“I’m glad I visited the area,” Ledet said. “I live in downtown Houston. Having the opportunity to see it with my own eyes — sometimes you’ve got to just do what’s right.”
Ledet said that Vanderpool is uniquely fortunate because of the other options in the area. Oftentimes, alternatives are simply not available. In this instance, there were a number of possible satisfactory solutions.
“We’re just ecstatic at the outcome,” said homeowner Marla Maudlin. “So many people told us you can’t win against a cell phone company — but thanks to this diverse group of people, we were able to come together and pool our resources.”
Last week, on Aug. 10, Bandera County Commissioners provided moral support to the protesters by formalizing a well-crafted resolution (see pg. x ) supporting the landowners’ right to petition the Federal Communications Commission and a request that the Texas Legislature grant counties the authority to regulate construction and placement of communication towers.
The whirlwind events of the past 3 weeks — beginning with residents discovering by happenstance that the process of constructing a 260-foot-tower complete with flashing lights was well underway — illustrates a process that is inadequate to protect our rural way of life from the kind of growth and development that’s coming — that’s here. At least 3 additional cell towers already have permits to be built in Bandera County.
T-Mobile will lease a cell tower from American Tower. It turns out, T-Mobile originally built this cell tower few years ago. It sits on property owned by the Honorable Jody Rutherford, Bandera County Court Commissioner of Precinct 4.
While Vanderpool residents celebrated an amicable solution with a cell phone giant, the news came as a surprise to Rutherford, whose contract is with American Tower – not T-Mobile or Branch Towers, LLC.
“I don’t know anything about it,” Rutherford said. “I have no say-so in my contract as to who they lease the tower to. They have the right to lease it to anyone they want to.”
Rutherford said he was not involved in the discussions which led to Ledet’s alternate proposals, which then formed the basis of T-Mobile’s decision, and that he had no idea why T-Mobile didn’t use the tower when they first built it. He said that those decisions weren’t really his business anyway, beginning to underscore his opinions about the importance and value of property rights.
“I always remember something my grandfather told me,” Rutherford said. “You don’t have the right to go on somebody’s property unless you’re invited. Always remember it!”
Marla Maudlin summed up the happy ending with T-Mobile and Branch Towers this way: “The best thing is we came away knowing all our neighbors — and we like them!” And that includes their neighbors the Gazaways, landowners of the disputed cell phone tower site. “Dennis and Ada have always been sweet neighbors to us. They’re good people. We have no ill feelings toward them.”