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In a letter addressed to the Federal Communications Commission, and the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) as well as the company proposing construction of a cellular tower at a contested location on the outskirts of the City of Memphis, the Scotland County Commission has called out the entities for the continued failure to include the local governing body as a consulting party, as required by law.
The County Commission was updated on May 27th by a group of concerned citizens that a cellular tower construction project, proposed just outside the west edge of the Memphis city limits, appeared to be moving forward after recent updates in the application process by Wireless Investment Partnership, LLC appeared to have been approved by the State Historic Preservation Office.
“Today, we were informed by a group of concerned residents that, in December of 2019, and in January and February of this year, certain actions had been taken by the ASR applicant and the Missouri State Historic Preservation Office (“SHPO”) with regard to the proposed project,” the letter, signed by Presiding Commissioner Dwayne Ebeling, and Associate Commissioners David Wiggins and Danette Clatt, stated. “Having never received any prior notice of such activity, we were completely unaware of any of the actions being taken. Therefore, once again, the Scotland County Commission has been denied any reasonable opportunity to be heard concerning the Section 106 process, and unjustly deprived of any meaningful role therein. This correspondence is intended to address these issues, as well as our concerns regarding the applicant’s apparent failure to comply with applicable federal law regarding consulting parties in the Section 106 process (as clearly set forth within the NPA) and the FCC’s explicit instructions for remediation of the applicant’s prior Form 620 deficiencies.”
The correspondence was a result of legal wrangling over the proposed tower site, which has been ongoing since September of 2019 when the FCC highlighted numerous deficiencies with the Wireless Investment Partnership application as related to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).
As a result, 55 letters from concerned citizens were entered into the argument as well as four requests to be granted consulting party status, including one by the Scotland County Commission. Those numbers swelled through November, as additional letters and requests for consulting party status were entered by local concerned parties.
On November 7, 2019 the Scotland County Commissioned issued written correspondence to the tower company, the FCC and the SHPO, citing relevant federal law related to its inclusion as a consulting party to be heard as the voice for all its constituents.
“As set out therein, the proposed location of the federal undertaking is located within a close-knit rural community and surrounded by residential homes, religious properties, parks, the local high school, and in close proximity to many historic properties. It is our concern that such an undertaking will have an adverse effect on the characteristics of the area’s historic properties and diminish the integrity of their location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and/or association,” the County Commission’s initial correspondence stated. “Additionally, a number of citizens have expressed concerns regarding the proximity and location of the proposed project in relation to occupied dwellings, some within the estimated fall radius of the proposed 30-story metal tower. For these reasons, and in accordance with applicable federal law, the Scotland County Commission requested to be treated as and considered a consulting party in the Section 106 review process. We further requested to be contacted once our request had been approved.”
Then in December, the county received correspondence from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) noting that a revised report from the parties would be necessary before the agency could approve the tower application. The action was related to local actions highlighting a number of historic properties that were not considered in the initial application process that was approved by the SHPO.
The county’s latest correspondence question a number of actions in February by Wireless Investment Partnership and the SHPO, which appeared to ignore the county commission’s status as a consulting party.
“Curiously, neither report was sent to the Scotland County Commission or any other local individuals or organizations interested in the project,” said the commission’s letter.
The county leaders indicated, that having no knowledge that Wireless Investment Partnership had filed a revised report in December and with no knowledge that the SHPO on January 13, 2020 had issued a new determination that the proposed project will “have no adverse effect on historic properties”, on April 2, 2020, sent a follow-up letter to WIP regarding its request for inclusion as a consulting party, as defined by the NPA and federal law, in the Section 106 review process.
“It appears that, in contravention of federal law, the Scotland County Commission, as the local governmental body, was neither informed, nor consulted, in the process of determining the effect this proposed federal undertaking will have upon our local historic properties or the community of taxpaying residents who have gone to great efforts and expense to preserve our proud heritage and landscape,” the county’s letter stated. “The Scotland County Commission was never provided the courtesy of a response to our November 7, 2019 written request to be included as a consulting party in the Section 106 review process. It has also been brought to our attention that none of the other individuals and organizations which sought consulting party status on this proposed project received a response to their written requests. Although the applicant may find expediting the process to be more convenient, we believe that both the circumstances and the NPA require local input and involvement in this matter.”