While other Indiana cities have been scrambling to pass local laws that would allow them to keep local control over where poles serving as cellphone signal boosters are placed, officials in Columbus say they already have a city ordinance in place that maintains such control.
Gov. Eric Holcomb has until Saturday to sign into law Senate Bill 213, which would give communications companies the authority to install utility poles known as small cell-phone towers in public right-of-ways. The state law, which is retroactive, was approved in the just-ended Indiana General Assembly. The bill gives companies the right to install poles that are up to 50 feet tall, with another 27 feet of equipment, to be placed 500 feet apart in the public right-of-way.
Dave Hayward, executive director of public works/city engineer for the city, said he already has reviewed the issue with Mayor Jim Lienhoop and City Attorney Alan Whitted and doesn’t believe it will affect Columbus. The city already has an ordinance passed in 1996 that requires permits to be obtained from fiber-optic companies and other entities that are not regulated by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, Hayward said.
The IURC regulates electric, natural gas, telecommunications, steam, water and sewer utilities, according to its website.
According to the Columbus ordinance, an application for a permit is required before any work is done on a road, alley, sidewalk, curb, roadside ditch, right-of-way or other public places for any purpose or to install any pole in any public street right-of-way.
“We feel like we’re covered and we still have the control we need with cellphone towers,” Hayward said.
The only protection put in place for local communities to have any say in approving the poles was this caveat: communities may prohibit the installation of the poles in an area that is a designated district for underground utilities, and the district must be established before May 1. Companies can ask for a waiver, which is how communities could review the plan and put requirements in place.
Small cell towers are in a limited number of communities, but thousands are expected to be installed across Indiana in the coming years, according to Aim, formerly known as the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns. The organization encouraged communities to study their options and take action.
The Daily Journal, a sister publication of The Republic, contributed to this report.