Cell tower installation temporarily stopped along Scenic Hwy. 98

Shelby DeSoto
One of the towers was placed right in front of The Crab Trap in Destin and another tower was installed about a block away on the West bound side of Scenic Highway 98.

Two small cell towers near the Crab Trap in Destin sit waiting for approval from the city of Destin to be used. These towers were installed back in June by Southern Light Fiber, who is a subcontractor for Verizon Wireless.

But according to Development Manager Steve Schmidt, the right-of-way permits that were issued were not the correct permits for the installation.

“The right-of-way permits issued for Crystal Beach were for a pole and cabling, allowing the utility company to put the facility in the right of way,” said Schmidt. “Since small cell towers are a new phenomenon, it was not well understood… it required more than just a right-of-way permit.”

“We got calls from the public as soon as it happened and we were surprised they put two up. They have to connect to electricity… so we would have found out sooner or later,” he said.

Schmidt told The Log statues had been changed due to the Code of Ordinances Chapter 18, Article III, which currently states, “A communications services provider that desires to place or maintain a communications facility in public rights-of-ways in the city shall first register with the city in accordance with this article.”

Since Verizon did not register with the city and applied for the wrong permit, construction and further installation has been put to a halt.

The communications company has to go to city council for approval and go through the correct process of registering with the city, Schmidt said.

Representatives from Southern Light were in attendance at Monday night's city council meeting, where city leaders shared their thoughts on the idea of cell towers in city right of ways.

"It may be good for us to evaluate where these can go, then bring that back to you," City Manager Greg Kisela told his colleagues.

Part of the issue is that if the city were to permit these specific towers in the right of way, Land Use Attorney Scott Shirley said they would not be able to discriminate against other service providers who may want to put towers in the same location.

The plan behind the small cell towers is one that will help improve calls in that area.

“When you get 70,000 tourists, it tends to overwhelm one tower and what these [small cell towers] do is handle a smaller operating area and picks up those calls without tying up the major hub. It is a relatively new technology.”

Schmidt also said there were future plans to install two more cell towers along the Harborwalk in Destin and the outlet mall, but the Department of Transportation has nixed both, he said.

Given the debate Monday night, the topic will come back before city leaders more than likely at the Aug. 17 city council meeting.