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Williston looking to regulate cell towers with balance between tech needs, aesthetics

WILLISTON -- City leaders are preparing to draft a new ordinance to regulate the installation of towers and poles in Williston by internet and cell phone providers. A series of meetings Wednesday, Nov. 30, included input from local technology com...

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WILLISTON - City leaders are preparing to draft a new ordinance to regulate the installation of towers and poles in Williston by internet and cell phone providers.

A series of meetings Wednesday, Nov. 30, included input from local technology companies, business owners and school administrators.

Officials hope the process, which is in the information-gathering phase, will result in a new ordinance that takes into consideration future technology needs, along with aesthetic and health concerns of residents.

At issue is the installation and placement of small cell phone and internet towers or poles, many of which are placed on light poles or located in unobtrusive locations throughout the city.

Local leaders foresee the demand for faster internet service growing along with the city's population, and aim to formulate their say in the process before it begins.

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"We're looking for creative ways where facilities can be deployed in town without building more of these poles," Mayor Howard Klug said. "It's technology that we know is coming, but how do we handle it in such a way that the city manages and controls it."

The northwest region of town, where the Williston Basin International Airport is being constructed, is one area where more such towers will likely be located.

The new high school, along with the hospital, are also under consideration as possible locations, officials say.

"We don't want to show up at a new airport site and not have this technology," Klug said, adding that leaders also aim to be prepared if oil industry activity picks up in the region. "When this comes back ... when we're a town of 60,000 people, we'll have this in place."

Technology companies have found increasingly creative ways to make sure their infrastructure is subtle, such as installing towers on flag poles, in hotels and even in churches, Robert Duchen, vice president of River Oaks Communication Corporation, a Colorado-based company contracted to draft the new ordinance, said.

"We want this ordinance to be provider-friendly and enhance the quality of life," he told representatives from Nemont and MidCo, the area's two major internet suppliers.

Local companies offered no objection to new regulations during a meeting on Wednesday, although one executive questioned the need for more rules.

Agreements are already in place between the area's major internet providers and power companies, who allow towers to be installed on light poles.

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"A lot of this is already going on here. As a utility I don't want to be overburdened with ordinances that are not necessary," Richard Hood, a senior project manager for Nemont, said. "I would hate to see any new regulation damage any existing relationships we have."

About 300 wood poles with towers attached are located throughout Williston, he added.

Once the initial ordinance is drafted, it will be presented to the City Commission, which will hold a public hearing, principal planner Rachel Laqua said.

"We're looking at a fairly fast timeline," she said.

Related Topics: TECHNOLOGY
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