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St. Pete Beach halts utility tower for lack of permit

ST. PETE BEACH — Who knew?

Water tanks and sewer pump stations can talk to each other.

Their favorite topics?

Why, water leaks and sewage overflows, of course.

At least, that is what Pinellas County Utilities plans once a series of nine microwave communications towers are built and operational.

In St. Pete Beach, that may take some time.

The city shut down construction of an 80-foot monopole communications tower when it discovered that the county contractor had failed to obtain a permit.

Now county officials are scrambling to get an application together that the City Commission must approve before work can resume to attach the actual communications equipment.

The issue began several weeks ago when residents began calling City Hall to report what they thought was a cell phone tower going up at Gulf Boulevard and 45th Avenue, just south of Dolphin Village.

"We got quite a few calls. Some people said the tower was 300 feet tall," said City Manager Mike Bonfield.

The city does not plan to demand that the tower be taken down until the commission decides the case, according to Karl Holley, the city's director of development services.

"We really don't want the tower right on the corner of Gulf Boulevard, but that may be the only place they can put it," Holley said.

The city's telecommunications ordinance requires that the tower be placed behind the 2-million-gallon water tank, but that placement may not meet the county's needs, he said.

According to Pinellas County Assistant Director of Utilities Kevin Becotte, each of the communications towers must maintain a "line of sight" to other utility communications towers to work properly.

County engineers identified specific locations for installation of new towers that will be added to a network of towers throughout the county.

The new communications network will allow the utility department to monitor sensors at each of its major facilities from a central location — an ability that will be particularly useful during emergencies such as hurricanes.

"The primary focus of the project is emergency communications. We are trying to alleviate bottlenecks in the flow of information," said Jim Hall, Pinellas County Utilities division manager.

The $3.5-million project is expected to save more than $1-million a year in communications costs, Hall said.

When completed, video cameras and other sensors at all major facilities will send real-time data to the county Utility Department's central monitoring stations.

"If we get an alarm, our key personnel can sit in a central room and look on the video to see what is happening," Hall said.

St. Pete Beach halts utility tower for lack of permit 11/25/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 26, 2008 12:28pm]
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