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By Phyllis McLaughlin
Special to The Spencer Magnet
The owner of the company that installed the new communications tower for Spencer County in December says he stands behind the quality of his work.
Ray Willhoite of Antennas Unlimited Inc. in Lexington said last week he is not worried about the structural integrity of the tower itself, nor is he concerned about the integrity of the concrete used for the tower base and anchor blocks that secure the guy wires that keep the tower upright.
Some county residents and at least one local official are concerned, though, that the county did not use rebar – steel rods used to reinforce concrete – as is required in written specifications provided by the tower manufacturer, Rohn Products of Peoria, Ill.
Willhoite said his company has erected many towers on concrete piers that did not include rebar. He said he did request that the county provide concrete enhanced with fiberglass when setting the tower pier and anchor blocks. The fiberglass additive does not make concrete stronger, but helps reduce cracking as the concrete cures and ages.
Invoices from Irving Materials Inc., or IMI, show the company delivered concrete to the site Nov. 13 and Nov. 16. Copies of the invoices were obtained by Magistrate Mike Moody and made available to the Magnet.
Carol Lowman, IMI’s billing coordinator, said last week that the invoices show the company delivered standard-mix concrete to the site on Nov. 13 and delivered Class A mix with stone, mainly used by highway departments, on Nov. 16. Neither delivery indicates that the concrete was enhanced with fiberglass or reinforced in any way, Lowman said.
But even though the county didn’t provide the concrete he’d requested, Willhoite remains unconcerned. “They were supposed to … but I’m still not worried about it,” he said. “I’ve never had a tower go down in a good 37 years. … I’ll guarantee the damn tower.”
Dave Brinker, Rohn’s vice president of engineering, said Monday that while rebar is required in the company’s specifications published for the 250-foot 45G tower, there are some cases when rebar isn’t required.
Without having the installer’s engineering records, Brinker said he couldn’t be sure if the Spencer County project is one of those cases. But, he explained that rebar would not be required if the installer used a “short base” for the tower and directly embedded the base into the concrete.
Emails to Willhoite for information on how the base was installed were not answered by press time Tuesday.
Debate continues over need for inspections, permits
From the start of the project, county building inspector Steve Clark has been vocal regarding his own concerns about the project – particularly that rebar was not used.
Clark believes the site should be inspected and said, in fact, that he and an inspector from the Department of Housing, Building and Construction, a division of the state’s Public Protection Cabinet, had attempted to inspect the site early on in the construction phase last November, but both were turned away.
In fact, Clark was told directly by Karrer that his services were not needed for the project.
In a letter dated Nov. 20, Karrer wrote: “After researching the need of a permit for installing a radio tower in Spencer County (other than a cell tower), I, and the County Attorney can find no requirement for a building or construction permit. Therefore, I am canceling my application for the permit. … As there is no need for a permit, there are no further needs for your services in this manner. Spencer County Fiscal Court holds you harmless as an inspector in this manner, as your services were never needed or required in this process.”
Ten days later, DHBC field inspector Jim Bozeman sent a report to Gary Feck, DHBC director, describing what occurred when he attempted to inspect the construction site. A copy of the report was obtained by Moody through an Open Records request and provided to the Magnet.
In the report, Bozeman states: “One of the workers became quite agitated, aggressive and began using profanity. ... Due to concern for my physical safety, I decided to leave the job site.”
Before he could leave, however, Bozeman said he was met by Sheriff Stump and was told the project was being completed under an emergency order from Judge Karrer and, therefore, did not require a building permit.
Bozeman reported that another worker at the site presented him with a temporary permit the county had obtained for the project from the Kentucky Airport Zoning Commission; that worker also indicated that a building permit would not be required for the project.
“I explained to the judge and sheriff that towers are included in the [Kentucky Building Code] and required permitting and inspections [and indicated] jurisdiction should be local,” Bozeman wrote in the field report. “The sheriff indicated the local [county] codes did not require a permit. I explained the difference between zoning and the KBC. I felt I was prevented from properly performing my duties as a code official by the contractor, owner’s representative [Karrer] and the local law enforcement [Stump and a deputy].”
It is unclear whether the worker presented the Airport Zoning permit as a substitute for a state building permit and inspection.
Either way, though, a Nov. 27 letter to Spencer County officials from KAZC Administrator Jim Houlihan attempts to clarify the issue. The main intent of that letter was to inform the county that the KAZC had granted the temporary permit, but Houlihan also clearly states that the permit doesn’t replace an inspection or building permit from the DHBC.
“This permit does not relieve Spencer County of compliance relating to any law, ordinance, or regulation of any Federal, State or local government body,” Houlihan wrote.
In a phone interview Monday, Houlihan said the commission had granted a permanent permit for the tower in February based on the results of an aeronautical study of the structure outlined by the Federal Aviation Administration in its “Determination of No Hazard to Air Navigation,” which was issued to Sheriff Stump on Nov. 28.
In that document, the FAA reports that “the structure does not exceed obstruction standards and would not be a hazard to air navigation,” provided the tower remains lighted according to FAA specifications.
Houlihan reiterated that this permit still is not a substitute for a state inspection and building permit. “They require a permit, and will require a stamped plan set from a licensed public engineer,” he said.
Additionally, two letters sent in December from officials within the Public Protection Cabinet to both Karrer and County Attorney Ruth Hollan clarify the state’s inspection and permit requirements for construction of radio and communications towers.
Copies of both letters, along with copies of the portion of the state building code outlining the requirements, were obtained by an Open Records request by the Magnet.
In his Dec. 7, 2012, letter, DHBC Commissioner Ambrose Wilson IV informed Karrer that the department was “asserting plan review and inspection authority over this project. … As this project is well underway, the Department will make every effort to assist in assuring that the communication tower is in compliance with … Kentucky Building Code requirements,” Wilson wrote.
For the county to receive a Final Letter of Completion for the project, Wilson said the county is required to submit its application for a permit (including a plan application form, detail design drawings or manufacturer’s design specifications), a plan review inspection fee of $250 and certification of the as-built conditions by a licensed design professional.
Wilson further explained that the county would have to obtain certification from a design professional for the project because, by that point, the tower was nearly completed.
In a separate letter to Hollan, dated Dec. 18, 2012, PPC attorney Dawn Michele Bellis also explained the state code requirements regarding the tower.
“The department’s application of code requirements for towers is specifically supported by Sections 312 and 3108 of the Building code,” Bellis wrote, and explained that towers fall under the Utility and Miscellaneous Group U, and that such projects “shall be constructed, equipped and maintained to conform to the requirements of the code.”
In spite of the correspondence from state officials, however, Karrer last week said he still maintains that neither an inspection nor a permit is required.
“The issue of whether a permit was needed or inspection permit needed began as a local issue,” he said, adding that he had requested documents from the state under the Open Records law to find out how many towers have been inspected by the state. “I did not find that we had ever inspected any tower [built in Spencer County], with one exception.”
That exception, he said, is a tower for a wireless Internet provider that is being re-installed because it was originally built “on property that needed a conditional-use permit.”
Karrer said the county’s new tower has undergone an electrical inspection and that a building permit and inspection have been acquired for the small building that houses equipment at the base of the tower.
Sheriff Stump sides with Karrer. It is his contention that the new tower does not require an inspection because no one physically occupies the structure. He also accused the state DHBC of singling out the county in its attempt to enforce the rule, which he claims has never been enforced by the state previously.
“Why are we being singled out? That’s the story,” Stump said. “Why is this the first tower [to be inspected]? Why is Spencer County being treated differently?
“I really don’t care if the tower is inspected, but they don’t have any guidelines to go by,” Stump continued. “No towers anywhere else in the state are being inspected by the state of Kentucky. There are towers all over the county that’s never been inspected. Don’t change the rules in the middle of the game.”
In an e-mail Monday, Brown said the DHBC “has inspected numerous towers across the Commonwealth in the past five years,” with the exception of jurisdictions such as Louisville and Lexington, “which are responsible for conducting their own inspections.”
Resident Carl Darnell, who staunchly opposes the tower project, submitted an Open Records request in March and obtained copies of four tower review forms from the DHBC reporting on inspections dating back to 2009. These included two FM towers installed in Johnson and Livingston counties in May and December of 2012 and two communications towers installed in Whitley and Montgomery counties in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
Darnell said state officials also told him that the state has issued a total of 55 permits – mostly for cell towers – in the past five years.
Additionally, both Karrer and Stump deny that state inspector Bozeman was ever made to feel uncomfortable or threatened when he attempted to inspect the site in November.
“I saw that report. If he was afraid of me and the sheriff and the road foreman and the deputy, I’m sorry,” Karrer said.
“There never was any tension” that day, Stump said. “We were just having a conversation. … I don’t know why people make untrue statements.”
Was it ‘money well spent’?
Both Karrer and Stump believe that the tower project was necessary for the safety of county residents and law enforcement, and that the entire project, including the new radio system, was a good investment of taxpayer money. The radios cost the county about $37,000, which was the original amount proposed to Fiscal Court in early November when Karrer issued an emergency order to buy the radios.
An emergency order exempts the county from having to seek bids for purchases totaling $20,000 or more, as required by the state.
At that time, Karrer and Stump expected to have the new antennas installed on water towers owned by the city of Taylorsville, where the other emergency radio antennas for the county are located.
Both city and county officials agreed that the county said it would buy radios for city emergency personnel in exchange for the use of the towers for the county’s antennas.
However, city commissioners immediately nullified a Memorandum of Understanding on the matter signed by Karrer and Taylorsville Mayor Don Pay because the mayor had signed it without the consent of the full commission.
At the Nov. 5 Fiscal Court meeting, City Commissioner Nathan Nation attempted to clarify the commission’s move to nullify the agreement, stating that it was a procedural issue and did not indicate that the city didn’t want to work with the county on the project.
In an article reporting on that meeting, published in the Nov. 7 issue of the Magnet, Karrer was quoted as saying that because the city chose to nullify the agreement, the county would build it’s own tower.
“We will no longer be treated that way,” Karrer said at the time, estimating then that building the tower would cost $30,000. “It’s a cheap price to pay [to cut ties from the city].”
Karrer then used the existing emergency order to purchase the tower immediately.
Magistrate Moody, who represents the Fiscal Court district where the tower was built, said last month that he doesn’t believe that move was legitimate and believes it will be costly for the county.
Karrer disagrees. “It is the intent of an emergency order to fix the problem, whatever the problem is. There were a number of issues. … [Fixing the problem] is my job. I did that.”
Karrer also said he doesn’t expect to spend more than $80,000 on the entire project.
Moody, however, estimates that at least $85,000 has already been spent and said that the project still isn’t completed. Security fencing still must be installed at the site, and Moody believes that will push the cost well over $100,000.
But Karrer said he believes that the county will save money with the new system, in the long run, even with the tower. The old radio system, which didn’t provide clear coverage throughout the county and put the public and first responders at risk, he said, had cost $167,000 plus more was spent over several to make repairs and improvements to the system to make it work – to no avail.
When asked how much the county will be forced to spend to maintain the tower and the FAA-required lighting, Karrer said he did not know but that he remains confident it will be money well spent.
Stump agrees. “We are trying to make it safe. … The radios are working great. It’s so much safer. There are no down spots [where officers lose contact with the dispatcher]. It’s a positive thing for the county.”