Environmental, industry groups agree on MOU that’s for the birds

A collection of environmental groups and a coalition of communications industry associations May 4 submitted to the FCC a document outlining agreed upon interim standards they say the agency should adopt to protect migratory birds without creating excessive regulatory burdens for those modifying existing towers or building new structures.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) also ranks tower lighting methods in a Lighting Preference Chart the groups and associations say should be used when a tower owner seeks to transition from one Federal Aviation Administration lighting style to another.

For more than six months, the environmental groups, including the American Bird Conservancy, the Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society, and the communications coalition, made up of CTIA-The Wireless Association, the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Association of Tower Erectors and PCIA-The Wireless Infrastructure Association, negotiated on finding common ground to build the standards. The MOU asks the FCC to adopt the interim standards as part of its Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) program. The commission uses the ASR program to register towers for broadband, wireless and broadcast use.

The MOU recommends the commission establish three categories for new communications towers — each with its own rules — based on the height of the structure. New towers taller than 450ft above ground level should be designated Category No. 1 structures. Those 351ft to 450ft should be assigned Category No. 2 status. Those no taller than 350ft, as well as replacement towers and antenna structures requiring minor changes to their registration, should fall into Category No. 3, the MOU said.

The memorandum recommends those registering Category No. 1 structures always include an environmental assessment with their filling and that the FCC always issue a public notice announcing the filing. Parties registering Category No. 2 structures will not be initially required to file an environmental assessment based on avian concerns but will be placed on a commission public notice. The FCC will decide whether or not Category No. 2 parties must submit an environmental assessment after reviewing the application and responses to the public notice.

The signatories to the MOU also agreed that Category No. 3 registrants should not be required to file an environmental assessment based on avian concerns but could not agree on whether the commission should issue a public notice for the category.

The MOU lighting recommendations draw on a preference chart submitted with the memorandum. The ASR program category rules tower owners would be required to follow when changing lighting styles depend upon whether the change is from a less to a more desirable FAA lighting style or vice versa. The former would be treated by the standards recommended for Category No. 3 structures, while the latter would be treated as a Category No. 2 structure, the MOU said. All changes muse be consistent with FAA Advisory Circular AC 70/7460-1K, FAA policies and local zoning requirements, it said.