Cell tower granted another extension

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

FRIES — The battle for permanent authority for U.S. Cellular to operate a tower in Fries will continue for at least another six months.

According to Dick Gibson — the attorney representing U.S. Cellular in the case — the Federal Communications Commission reissued a Special Temporary Authorization regarding the cell tower in Fries on July 18.

The temporary authority will now expire Jan. 29, 2009.

The issue has been ongoing since 2005, when U.S. Cellular installed the tower without filing necessary paper work with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

According to FCC documents in Feb. 2007, both the FCC and state Department of Historic Resources signed an agreement allowing the cell company to activate the tower under a “special temporary authority.”

At the same time, a group of Fries citizens — calling themselves Fries Friends for Intelligent Tower Setting — complained to the state department about the tower location. The group said they wanted the tower moved to a less intrusive spot away from the river and the historic mill town.

The FCC began conducting a review of the complaint — which continues to this day according to FCC Spokeswoman Chelsea Fallon.

U.S. Cellular has been operating from the site under special temporary authority, granted by the FCC.

Under the FCC’s rules, a temporary authority may be granted for a maximum of 180 days. U.S. Cellular’s original temporary authority was scheduled to expire on Aug. 22, 2007. On Aug. 9, 2007, the FCC granted the company’s application to extend the authority for another 180-day period, putting the deadline at Feb. 18.

In January, the permit was again extended and would have expired Aug. 2 before the most recent extension pushed a decision back until at least Jan. 29, 2009.

When contacted by The Gazette last week and asked if he still was in opposition of the tower placement, James Harris of F.F.I.T.S. said, “this is a law enforcement issue. Further comment is probably not appropriate.”

U.S. Cellular has agreed to pay the Town of Fries $58,000 if it receives permanent authority.

Of the total, $38,000 would be used to replace the aging roof on the town’s recreation center with the remaining being used to help promote the town.