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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

FEC's proposed 200-foot tower stirs opposition in Jupiter, Fla.

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The Florida East Coast Railway wants to build a radio tower twice as tall as the Jupiter Lighthouse about a football field from Bob Culpepper's front door on Park Street, the Palm Beach Post reports. And the former Jupiter mayor and nearby residents on the north side of the Loxahatchee River are none too happy about it.

"You'll see that pole for 10 miles," said Culpepper, standing in the tall grass next to the railroad tracks that would be the tower's location. "It'll be ugly for residents and motorists driving by."

The single-pole tower, which would be surrounded by a chain-link fence with barbed wire on top, is needed to upgrade railroad communications and improve railroad safety. The FEC wants to begin construction early next year, said Richard Newton, president of Atlanta-based Signal Port LLC, the company that wants to build the tower.

The proposed 200-foot tower is in a "totally inappropriate location" and should be moved, said Mayor Karen Golonka. Town officials have met with Signal Port officials and plan more discussions, she said. But a federal law passed in 1995 exempts railroads from state and local zoning laws. That limits the town's options. The FEC is not required to comply with the town's 50-foot communication tower height requirement. Nor must the FEC obtain approval from the Jupiter Town Commission to build the tower, said Town Attorney Tom Baird.

The 1995 Federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act prevents "a patchwork of local regulations" from interfering with railroad operations, said Newton.

After meeting with Jupiter officials, FEC officials are considering a site on the south side of the CSR Rinker Materials property, east of the FEC railroad tracks between Tequesta Drive and the Jupiter/Tequesta border. The Rinker site is "a good alternative that might work well for everyone," Newton said via e-mail.

"This tower would be a disaster for either community. It should be away from residential areas," said Tequesta Vice-Mayor Tom Paterno.

Once the tower is built, the FEC plans to offer the structure as a docking point for other communities and wireless communications companies. Called co-locating, companies such AT&T and local police and fire departments would lease tower space from the FEC for satellite dishes to enhance communications, said Newton.

But profit - not safety - is the FEC's motive, said Steve French, a homeowner who lives along the tracks near Culpepper.

"The tower is just a glorified way for FEC to make money. Everybody is afraid to stand up to the railroads. I hope our town council doesn't just roll over on this one," said French, an insurance agent.