PRATT — The Pratt County Planning and Zoning Commission voted to disapprove a proposal from AT&T to place a new cell service tower at the Pratt Regional Airport last month, but the issue will come before the Pratt County commissioners again on Jan. 27 as the telephone company continues to pursue the project north of the city of Pratt.
"It is not that the zoning board is against the tower," said Pratt County Emergency Management Director Tim Branscom. "It's just that placing it at the airport violates our safety standards, compromises airspace minimums and could create a hazard for pilots."
According to Randy Huitt, Fixed Base Operator for the Pratt Regional Airport, the proposed site location for the 260-foot cell tower is directly in the downwind pattern for landing to the south.
"I understand that AT&T wants to improve service in this area and the closer to the service area the tower is placed, the better the service will be," Huitt said, "but we cannot compromise the safety of our pilots. It's just not the right location."
Branscom said engineers hired by AT&T had determined that the Pratt Regional Airport was the best location for the tower, as it would be able to marry up with other towers, improving and extending the coverage area, but planning and zoning board members disagreed.
At the December meeting, president of the planning and zoning board Morgan Trinkle didn't participate in the discussion as he said he farmed land around the proposed site of the tower. Vice president Rick Shriver presided over the discussion during which several area pilots took to the floor to express their opinions.
Safety concerns were expressed by more than 10 guests in attendance at the December meeting, after which the eight members of the planning and zoning commission voted to disapprove the proposal.
Branscom said Pratt County commissioners will have two options at their next meeting: Follow the recommendation of the planning board and disapprove the proposal or allow the tower, based on a required variance in the proposal.
Even if the measure is disapproved by the county, AT&T could take the issue to court to win its choice of tower placement in the county. Branscom said, however, a variance would have to require the tower to be less than 200 foot tall in total to meet airport and FAA safety requirements.