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Thread: Cell towers on railroad property

  1. #1

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    Cell towers on railroad property

    Have heard rumors that Telecommunications Companies are striking deals with the railroads to put towers up along the tracks in order to avoid the restrictions of local zoning regulations - and citing Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995. Any truth to these rumors? If so, has any local government had any success in getting the towers back under review for compliance with their zoning ordinance?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    The ICC termination act of 1995 says that all local zoning regulations are pre-empted by Federal Law on rail ROW. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 is federal law which grants jurisdictions the authority to review wireless telecommunication facilities but not prohibit them.

    So, I think that if cell companies are using the ICC act of 1995 as rationale to avoid local regulation, I think your City Atty needs to be prepared to challenge the validity of that statement.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    Wonder if this is a potential loophole...RR builds a tower necessary for RR communication system, then telecoms hang their equipment on it?

  4. #4
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Richi View post
    Wonder if this is a potential loophole...RR builds a tower necessary for RR communication system, then telecoms hang their equipment on it?
    Well, local government still has the right to regulate the WCF to make sure that it is compatible with what the community wants.... we just can't prohibit them from teh community. Preferred location lists and CUP/SUPs for non-preferred locations can be a method to require "high review and design" for cell equipment in RR rows and/or other areas where cell equipment could be considered intrusive or a hazard(within the scope of the zoning ordinance) to citizens.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Insider's view

    I work for "A" cell tower company.

    Most ordinances require collocation, which means that almost any tall structure is fair game. (I'm recalling a photo essay in National Lampoon about being "down on the farm...")

    RR property large enough for a cell tower's accessory building(s) tends to be zoned industrial.

    The difficulties lie in obtaining a clear title to the RR ground (it can be complicated to pull a deed that's 150+ years old) and access easements. Do the cell techs drive over the tracks? Does the power company trench under the tracks, or hang wire in the air? (Yeah, it's "wireless," but it still runs on the grid.)

    Oh, and there are environmental issues. As FCC-regulated companies, wireless has to do lengthy environmental reviews. This year I've encountered one environmental assessment (100-year floodplain, despite updated FEMA maps) and one wetland requiring beaucoup mitigation (we moved down the road). RR property might have just a bit of environmental contamination.

    Finally, the leasing is not a slam-dunk. RR companies can be incredibly slow to reply and keep the ball moving. Rails-to-Trails has similar issues, but they'll have community support (citizens and political) behind the project.

    The pointy-haired boss floated this past my counterparts and moi last year, thinking that this was just a fabulous idea, would solve all our problems. (I believe there's a private consultant willing to make the deals with the RR companies.) We explained all of these issues to him, and added the fact that a rural build plan pretty well excludes large urban rail yards.

    I would like to see more jurisdictions require that carriers consider municipal property first. If I'm stuck in this job putting up big @$$ ugly cell towers, I would just as soon have the revenue go to a Good Cause, e.g. municipal budgets.

    (Feel free to ask anything else. I need another excuse to Cyburbianize during the work day!)

  6. #6
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    Seems to not be an issue as much in Canada as the RR's tend to charge extortionate lease rates (old tradition). I've seen a few cell towers in RR yards but not nearly as many as one would expect.

    I would expect that we would regulate the form and character of the cell antenna/tower, as we do in all cases.

  7. #7
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    We have a special use waiver process for collocations in commercial and industrial properties.

    The railroad that runs through here is simply the track ROW (no yards) and there aren't any structures tall enough (right now) for collocation. Now if the railroad built a tower for their own use and a cell company wished to collocate, the cell company would still have to go through our review processes.

    One advantage though, is we have a high power electric transmission corridor running through the muni. and we have been approving collocation on these ~110 foot towers.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  8. #8

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    A lot to think about - thanks...

    And, just to clarify..

    These are cell towers in Railroad right-of-way, claiming that there is no local jurisdiction, next to tracks. Surrounding zoning is residential. No use of the tower by the Railroad company.

    Cheers!

  9. #9
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by JMo View post
    A lot to think about - thanks...

    And, just to clarify..

    These are cell towers in Railroad right-of-way, claiming that there is no local jurisdiction, next to tracks. Surrounding zoning is residential. No use of the tower by the Railroad company.

    Cheers!
    Maybe I'm not fully understanding this but unless the RR ROW is within a jurisdiction with appropriate zoning/wcf laws, there is no ability to regulate at a local level.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  10. #10

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    The thought is - rail road rights of way are to be used for the rail roads - and because of this specific and important use - they are exempt from local zoning regulations.

    However, the cell tower companies are using this exemption to their advantage by paying the rail companies to locate within their rights of way. Putting their telecommunication towers in areas that, if not for their railroad ownership and their exemption, would most logically be zoned, say, residential.

    This violates the intent of the exemption in the first place. So I am particularly curious... has any local government challenged this practice and have they been successful in that challenge. If they have, it would be a nice legal decision to have in our back pockets if we ever need it...

    Thanks again!

  11. #11
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by JMo View post
    The thought is - rail road rights of way are to be used for the rail roads - and because of this specific and important use - they are exempt from local zoning regulations.

    However, the cell tower companies are using this exemption to their advantage by paying the rail companies to locate within their rights of way. Putting their telecommunication towers in areas that, if not for their railroad ownership and their exemption, would most logically be zoned, say, residential.

    This violates the intent of the exemption in the first place. So I am particularly curious... has any local government challenged this practice and have they been successful in that challenge. If they have, it would be a nice legal decision to have in our back pockets if we ever need it...

    Thanks again!
    So, I stand by one of my original posts: Since the ICC act pertained to railroad ownership and activites and decalre railroads exempt from local law and subject only to federal law the Telcom Act of 96 declared that municpalities could enact and utilize any regulations which allow, but do not prohibit, WCF's, we can regulate this WCF despite it's location within a RR ROW.

    I've worked in both AZ and IL and in both instances, RRROW was zoned. It's treated much like a utility corridor. Although the corridor is an essential public service and can be located in any zoning district, other uses in that corridor or ROW are restricted as allowed by local and federal law. I think a little more research is needed in regards to what the ICC act actually states. WCF is not equal to railroad operations.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  12. #12
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    photos and locations of Railroad cell installations

    I work with county officials on cell tower/carrier valuations in their community. I am doing a seminar in a few months with some assessors that we are discussing the use of utility towers for cell phone install. We have a few good examples, but would love some photos of colocations on railroad or utility towers. So, any advise on locations in the southeast or photos would be greatly appreciated. Trying to help assure they are picking these up for business personal property. Thanks for the help!

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by microtek1 View post
    I work with county officials on cell tower/carrier valuations in their community. I am doing a seminar in a few months with some assessors that we are discussing the use of utility towers for cell phone install. We have a few good examples, but would love some photos of colocations on railroad or utility towers. So, any advise on locations in the southeast or photos would be greatly appreciated. Trying to help assure they are picking these up for business personal property. Thanks for the help!
    Please read post #5....I have never seen any wcf on RR property, never worked on same, avoided at all costs due to the issues mentioned in 2008. HTH

  14. #14
    BANNED
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    To access railroad property for digging, surveys, drilling, soil sampling and monitoring, etc. Permissions and right-of-entry permits are required before entering railroad property.

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