The public had its first chance to question officials about plans to build a temporary wireless communications tower in Coral Bay, St. John, that would facilitate communications among first responders during disasters and emergencies.
The Department of Planning and Natural Resources held an online public hearing Friday morning to review an application submitted by Liberty Mobile USVI, Inc. to deploy a 45-foot monopole tower on V.I. Government-owned land in Estate Carolina, Parcel No. 6-4-1.
Attorney Vonetta Norman, representing Liberty Mobile, explained that the tower will primarily be used to satisfy the requirements of the federally mandated First Net network that creates an “interoperable public safety broadband network.”
The project, which has been approved by the Federal Communications Commission, was initiated by AT&T several years ago. Liberty Mobile assumed responsibility for the project when it acquired AT&T’s assets in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in 2020.
The temporary tower will be deployed on a 16-foot trailer and will not require an earth change permit. However, plans are underway to replace it with a permanent 100-foot tower which will require additional scrutiny and approval by the Coastal Zone Management Commission. The application for the permanent structure is now being reviewed by officials at DPNR.
The temporary tower can be erected within 30 days, according to Norman. Liberty will then have 12 months to replace the temporary tower with a permanent structure.
The temporary tower will primarily be used by Liberty for First Net communications but will also allow Liberty to extend coverage to some of its customers. The proposed permanent tower, however, has the capacity for “colocation” and can accommodate two wireless “tenants” who can place their equipment on the tower.
During Friday’s meeting, audience members raised questions about a number of issues, including the reach of the signal from the temporary tower, the ways the tower might affect the views and values of neighboring properties and possible issues related to stormwater drainage.
Coral Bay residents have long decried the spotty cell phone coverage on the eastern portion of St. John. Officials from Liberty said the new tower will expand the coverage for some customers, but it will not solve problems experienced by residents of Calabash Boom or Mandal.
As for the views, Wanda Perez-Alvarez of Liberty of Puerto Rico said the temporary tower would resemble “just a stick in the air.” She couldn’t comment on how the tower might affect the property values of neighboring residents.
The placement of a permanent tower at the site would require the paving of an access road and might affect stormwater runoff. That issue will be addressed as part of the CZM permitting process for the permanent tower.
Several audience members questioned Liberty officials about whether alternative sites had been considered. Several have been proposed by the Coral Bay Community Council.
“We are considering other locations for other coverage,” said Perez-Alvarez, “but it’s not a matter of one or the other. We have to do the First Net deployment.”
Listeners asked about the possibility of using the tower owned by Viya on Bordeaux Mountain as an alternative, but Perez-Alvarez said, “It does not have the capability to comply with First Net coverage.”
Members of the public may email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org through Sunday, Aug. 27.