Neighbors will hear about future radio towers early. Here’s why, Manatee officials say

The next time county officials build a public safety radio tower, you’ll be sure to hear about it in advance.

The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved Thursday a resolution that would limit how far the design process can move forward before neighboring homeowners are notified of any public radio tower project.

It’s an action that should finally put what has been an emotional ordeal behind the board after the disputed construction of a P25 radio tower on county property in Kinnan Park. That tower, county staff said, was administratively approved by County Administrator Ed Hunzeker, which led to communication failure with the neighbors and an official reprimand.

Residents said the procedure is a step in the right direction.

“Obviously we had some challenges with the Kinnan project because we didn’t have a procedure in place,” Gary Adams said during public comment.

The new procedure is “strong stuff” in terms of instructions for county staff, said county attorney Bill Clague.

From now on, residents within at least 1,000 feet of a proposed radio tower site will be alerted as soon as the project’s engineering design reaches 30 percent completion. The new rule also prevents any administrative approval.

“In no event shall the county administrator direct or consent to the design and engineering of a radio tower on a radio tower site beyond 30 percent completion prior to the completion of the public meetings and workshops required by these procedures,” the resolution reads.

Clague explained that the 30 percent number is generally the first checkpoint engineers meet while researching the viability of a project. Commissioner Misty Servia argued residents deserve to know about projects before they get started at all.

There’s no way around having engineers look into the possibility of installing a radio tower at a certain location without giving them some leeway to do the research, Commissioner Stephen Jonsson said.

“You have to give them the latitude to move along and see if it makes sense,” he said.

Commissioners could have opted to lower the number to different percentage, but they ultimately agreed that 30 percent would be an appropriate amount of exploration for county staff.

“I have no problem with 30 percent, which I see as a sort of cone of uncertainty,” Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace said. “We don’t know how it’s going to affect everybody until you narrow it down.”

Commissioner Betsy Benac made a point of highlighting the fact that the resolution limits the planning to 30 percent of engineering design, which is still an entire step before construction would be allowed to begin. The board believes the change would prevent any future radio tower headaches.

The resolution passed unanimously. Commissioners also voted to rescind a motion they made Aug. 23 in an effort to enforce a new radio tower procedures that county staff found confusing.