Lake County prepares for wave of wireless equipment on utility poles

 
 
Updated 7/13/2018 3:54 PM
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  • The Lake County Board and other entities, including the DuPage County Board, have amended ordinances to deal with the installation of antennas and wireless equipment on traffic signals and streetlights.

    The Lake County Board and other entities, including the DuPage County Board, have amended ordinances to deal with the installation of antennas and wireless equipment on traffic signals and streetlights. Courtesy of DuPage County

The landscape in Lake County is expected to change with the installation of boxes the size of small refrigerators on utility poles, traffic signal arms and elsewhere.

Antennas atop the poles also are part of an anticipated wave of wireless equipment that will begin appearing in communities and counties throughout the state via the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act.

"We have not been approached by companies yet, (but) there is interest in the area and they are scouting out locations," said Jon Nelson, engineer of traffic for the Lake County Division of Transporation.

The law requires all local agencies by Aug. 1 to adopt ordinances that essentially opens public rights of way to wireless companies. Lake County on Tuesday joined other counties and municipalities to do so as they gear up for a wave of equipment installations.

And while they favor technological advances, county officials, like some others, aren't too pleased with the short time they have had to address among all parties the loss of local control and revenue that will result.

"It's not because we like it. It's because we have to," county board member Steve Carlson said before the vote to amend the ordinance regarding the utility company facilities to include the new provisions.

The upside, according to supporters, is significantly faster device and internet speeds leading to 5G wireless projects and the potential for thousands of new jobs.

The downside will be the proliferation of the necessary equipment in very visible locations. Equipment boxes to be mounted on the sides of poles, for example, can be up to 25 cubic feet, or about 4 feet by 3 feet by 2 feet.

"An average-size college dorm room fridge is a good visual," Shane Schneider, LCDOT chief, explained to county board members.

"It's a large piece of equipment that may blend into a utility pole in an industrial area, but when you're putting these in more residential type areas on a black streetlight pole, they're going to be very noticeable."

The county ordinance requires the applicant to do a structural analysis to show the pole can hold the equipment and ensure it won't restrict the visibility of drivers, for example. Applicants also will be responsible for anything that may happen after the equipment is installed.

"We are trying to improve the legislation, but we are tied to how much we can modify it," Schneider said.

Potential lost revenue is another sore spot. The county, for example, charges $1,200 for permit reviews/inspection. The state law caps that at $650 for an individual permit application and $350 if they are bundled, a reduction of 50 percent to 75 percent, Schneider said.

The rent paid by applicants for the installations is $200 per year. Before the state legislation, other agencies were charging up to $4,000 each, Schneider said.

What would wireless companies do if the county ignored the Aug. 1 deadline?

"They would just follow the state law and wouldn't come to us for the permit process and for those items that we were able to craft into the (ordinance) language that do provide some public benefit," Schneider said.

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