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WKYT Investigates | Rural residents fear having little say as more cell towers sprout

Several neighbors in Pulaski County are pushing back against a second cell tower on their road.
Several neighbors in Pulaski County are pushing back against a second cell tower on their road.
Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 2:31 PM EST
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NANCY, Ky. (WKYT) - John Wayne Burton has lived his whole life in this rural part of Pulaski County.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes,” he said in a recent interview at his home off Happy Ridge Road in Nancy. “I like it here. This is a good spot to live. And we’re trying to keep it that way.”

But, as the community around him has grown, so have cell towers around them.

An online database of towers, registered with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), shows three towers and 23 antennas within a three-mile radius of Burton’s address: one built in 1998, and two more in 2005.

“Where I live,” said Doug Rogers, who also lives in the area, “the first thing I see when I walk out the door is a cell phone tower.”

Now a number of long-time neighbors say they feel increasingly powerless as the number of towers dotting their landscape threatens to grow again.

AT&T has asked the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC) for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity. The wireless company wants to build a 300+ foot tower out Happy Ridge - right across the road from another one.

“We’ve already got one to look at, so now we get two to look at,” Rogers said. “One on each side of the road. So you’re just driving through them every day.”

AT&T is already a tenant on the tower (owned by SBA Infrastructures) currently standing at 499 Happy Ridge Road. If state regulators approve their proposal, their new tower (owned by Uniti Towers) will be just over 600 feet from the first.

The move would save them $5 million in rent over the next 20 years, AT&T said in documents filed with the state.

Pulaski County, like many rural counties, does not have planning and zoning regulations or specific regulations for cell towers. That means that “area residents have no reasonable expectation of input into the land use of surrounding properties or the impact a proposed land use will have on their property,” an AT&T attorney wrote in one filing with the PSC.

Several neighbors say they were approached with requests to build the tower on their property, which they denied, before the company found a willing landowner.

“I can understand the aspect of ‘for the greater good,’” Donald Tarter, another neighbor in Nancy, told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer. “But me and my wife and my neighbors, none of us wants to be a sacrificial lamb for any of this.”

Nancy is not the only place this is happening. PSC records show right now AT&T wants to move from SBA towers in 11 other places across Kentucky. In several of them, the new tower would be just over the length of a football field from the other one still standing.

AT&T attorneys say switching from those 12 towers would save them a total of $28 million over 20 years.

“We work with local authorities to identify cell site locations that balance the needs of our business with the concerns of the community,” an AT&T spokesperson told WKYT Investigates in a statement. “We are relocating this particular site because we are committed to providing the best service and coverage for our customers in Pulaski County and were unable to renew our lease for the current location.”

Neighbors voiced their concerns at a public hearing held in Pulaski County but said they still feel they have little say in the matter, given the regulatory environment for wireless companies - one that is designed “to promote competition and reduce regulation.”

At that same hearing, an attorney for SBA offered rent for $10 cheaper than what AT&T would get on the Uniti tower. It is unclear if that will change the math for the PSC’s decision on the matter.

Yet neighbors believe it is “when,” not “if,” the second tower is built on their road.

“It’s just another example of Corporate America coming in and doing what they want,” Rogers said.

“I just hope,” Burton said, “this commission and these companies don’t overrun us little farmers and people out here in the community without listening to our voices.”

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