Attorney Lisa Komives testifies before the 29th Legislature

The Source— September 1, 2011

A nearly three-year moratorium on new cell towers will be lifted if a bill approved in committee Thursday becomes law. The bill creates new application and public hearing procedures and gives the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources regulatory and enforcement powers over tower construction. 

“This moratorium has really slowed down progress in building towers, so we really need to get this through and get the moratorium lifted,” said Sen. Louis Hill, one of the bill’s sponsors.

The bill was discussed in committee in May, but held for amendment. No one testified against the bill.

Attorney Lisa Komives, representing AT&T of the Virgin Islands, supported the bill, saying problems with cell service after Tropical Storm Irene were “exacerbated by the fact that wireless companies have been unable to build new towers for almost three years due to the moratorium.”

Jennifer Matarangas-King, Innovative’s vice president of public relation and governmental affairs, explained that the moratorium was originally prompted largely by concerns over the proliferation of towers throughout the territory, particularly on St. Thomas. She added that the moratorium, originally intended to last only six months, also addressed liability concerns and whether or not “tower owners could cover the costs of any damage.”

King noted that the new bill effectively addresses those concerns and voiced Innovative’s strong support for the bill, with some technical changes.

The bill would give DPNR broad regulatory authority to set height, setback and other requirements, as well as enforcement powers and the ability to impose fines of $1,500 per day on violators. Along with creating an application procedure, it requires DPNR to rule on tower applications within 90 days, or within 150 days if a hearing is required.

After approving Hill’s amendment in the nature of a substitute, the Committee on Planning and Environmental Protection voted to send the bill out of committee for consideration by the Rules and Judiciary Committee.

Voting yea were Sens. Neville James, Ronald Russell, Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilly, Patrick Sprauve and Louis Hill.

Sen. Craig Barshinger was marked as not voting and Sen. Carlton “Ital” Dowe was absent.

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