Commissioners Allow Cell Phone Tower Construction to Add Danger to Shelby Airport Landings

Report by Robert A. Williams

Many Commissioner’s Meetings are just plain dull. Administrative or just quick meetings with little on the agenda. This was what happened at the November 4, 2014 meeting, which just happened to be on election day evening and Commissioners Jason falls and Eddie Holbrook were wanting to get out of there to see whether or not they were re-elected. But as is often the case, when you are in a hurry or think everything is cut and dry, you find out you have made a big screw-up.

This particular meeting had only a few items on the agenda. A couple of uncontested re-zoning issues which require public hearings. But nobody spoke up either for or against the rezoning so they both passes unanimously without much discussion. Everybody was ready to go.

Then Commissioner Ronnie Hawkins, in the Commissioner Reports part at the end of the meeting brings up the fact that he (as an amateur aviator) had made a recent final landing approach to the Shelby Airport Runway Number 5 and was very unpleasantly surprised to find a cell phone tower right there in his way. The implications were clear. Commissioners have been hooked into funding for the airport by the city of Shelby. Lots of funding too. And locations of the cell phone towers in Cleveland County are approved by the Cleveland County Commissioners. The Commissioners had screwed up big time.

But Planning Department Director Bill McCarter explained that the cell phone tower met all the clearance requirements and added some mumbo-jumbo about flight plans showing something that pilots should pick up to alert them of the cell phone tower. Commissioner Hawkins was not finished yet, but the other Commissioners were as they cut a trail without a care about a potentially deadly situation caused by the Commissioners approving an obstacle in the way for a novice pilot such as those that frequent small airports such as the Shelby Airport.

Commissioner Hawkins was explaining to Bill McCarter and myself about how a standard approach to landing on a runway includes coming parallel to the runway with the wind, making two ninety degree turns and then lining up to the runway against the wind, descending and slowing down the whole time as you get ready to land. In such a situation a too wide turn (that happens often) also lines you up with the cell phone tower while you are going low and slow. A deadly combination when you have to make sudden corrections to avoid the cell phone tower.

I reminded Commissioner Hawkins that he had voted to approve the cell phone tower location as had all the rest of the Commissioners. They have approved a bunch of new cell phone towers without any opposition that I have happened to witness myself. Every one requires a public hearing and no one has spoken up against a location. That is except myself when on a couple of occasions I have reminded Commissioners that their public hearings are pretty close to secret events as the details of the issues are not made public in time for anyone to get familiar with what is happening. For cell phone towers, the AT&T representative has never provided the information in advance of the meeting for anyone, including the Commissioners, to read up upon the details. Yet every one of the cell phone tower requests have been approved unanimously by the Commissioners.

So, what do we have here in this instance. Well, nothing until someone crashes into the tower or crashes while trying to avoid the tower. But if a crash ever occurs, all us taxpayers better open up our pocketbooks to pay for the negligence of our Commissioners, including the two that just got re-elected who allowed this cell phone tower to be located and built dangerously close to the Shelby Airport Runway Number 5. Such a case would be an ambulance chasing lawyer’s dream.

Folks, there are three Commissioner seats up for re-election in 2016. A majority. Cleveland County needs commissioners who will pay attention to the details and operate under the watchful eyes of the public. There is no place for secrets and dishonesty in the government of Cleveland County, North Carolina and the USA. Folks, sign up to run for office in the School Board Elections of 2015 and the other races in 2016. The rest of us folks need to be prepared to vote for the best candidates who pay attention to what they are doing. That responsibility is ours and ours alone. Otherwise someone else chooses our elected leadership and you get what you deserve.

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