FAA says Medford failed to register tower changes

A Federal Aviation Administration official says the agency was surprised to discover a police communications tower in east Medford was built 200 feet from its planned location and is 20 feet taller than proposed.

"Officially, it would have been nice if they had told us," said Mike Fergus, a spokesman for the FAA. "We didn't know they were going to move the thing 200 feet."

If you go

What: Public hearing on rules exemption for police communications tower.

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, March 3

Where: Medford City Hall

The news follows on the heels of a report that the Federal Communications Commission issued a violation to the city of Medford for failing to register the tower on Capital Hill.

When the FAA approved plans for the new tower in 2009, the location was about 200 feet to the north. Fergus said the FAA allows 100 foot of leeway in the final location.

The FAA discovered the tower had been changed from its proposed location after it had already been built on Dec. 29, 2010. The agency did not issue any official violation or penalty for the oversight.

The 1,700-foot altitude at the top of the tower didn't change because the tower itself was increased in size by 20 feet and the current location is lower than originally proposed, Fergus said. The FAA lists the tower at 140 feet, but the city has said it is 130 feet.

"The overall tower height is a wash," Fergus said.

The FAA did require a red light be placed on the tower where it was originally proposed.

Fergus said the FAA conducted a study in 2008 to determine whether the proposed tower would pose any hazard to aircraft. By 2009, a public comment period had ended, and the FAA had received no comments even though it sent out 2,000 e-mails to residents and officials in the Medford area.

The new tower, which replaces a 60-foot tower to the south on the same 9-acre property owned by the Medford Water Commission, is visible from miles away. The old tower has served as the city's primary communications transmission center since 1988.

The FAA issue is the latest in a series of embarrassing procedural gaffes related to the project. The tower construction first raised concerns when neighbors were not notified and discovered during Christmas week that a 130-foot tower had been raised in their midst. The neighbors have appealed that lack of notice, but while city officials have apologized, they say the tower is exempt from land-use rules because it is for public safety.

Then, on Feb. 11, the FCC issued a notice of violation to the city for failing to register the tower. It has since been registered. The FCC also is looking into a separate complaint that the tower should have been subject to further review because it is within a half-mile of a historic home. City officials say this issue hasn't been resolved.

The tower replaces a 60-foot tower to the south on the same property on Capital Hill. The existing tower has served as the city's primary 9-1-1 communications transmission center since 1988. Medford police officials say the new tower will fill in gaps in the communication system, especially within large buildings such as Rogue Valley Medical Center, City Hall and the Rogue Valley Mall.

The City Council will continue a public hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday to determine whether it believes the city is exempt from requiring a development permit for the tower.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.

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