HOLT, Fla., July 7, 2022—A proposed 300-foot communications tower in Holt was met with resistance at the Board of County Commissioners Meeting at the courthouse Tuesday.
Using half-cent surtax money, Okaloosa County is upgrading its outdated emergency communications system which includes constructing towers throughout the county, but especially in the north area where communications is poor.
The county needs a tower in Holt and proposed to build one on the west side of Cooper Lane.
Residents within 300 feet of the proposed tower responded negatively to a county notification letter and took the opportunity to present their side at the board’s public input meeting.
“We object to putting a tower on Cooper Lane,” said resident George Holt who attended the board meeting. “It’s a quiet neighborhood there. It’s not a place for a tower.”
Cooper Lane is a tree-lined country road with homes built on both sides of the road.
Because of the negative responses, the county identified an alternate tower site on Joseph Cook Road, north of U.S. Highway 90 and the railroad tracks, but did not have time before the meeting to determine if it will pass all the restrictions required by the Federal Aviation Administration and Eglin Air Force Base.
“We don’t know the legal access for sure at this point,” said Craig Coffey, deputy county administrator. “We did like the parcel because of the remoteness of it. Our goal is to make [the site] as remote as possible.”
Emergency communications needed
The new emergency communications system will serve more than 30 different public safety entities, including all emergency medical services, fire/rescue, law enforcement and Okaloosa emergency management agencies, according to the county.
The current system has not been updated in 30-plus years, according to District 1 Commissioner Paul Mixon, and does not cover some of the more remote areas in the north county, including Holt.
“We have a lot of low-lying areas like the [Yellow River] valley that extends to Wilkerson Bluff where you can’t get a radio signal,” said Holt Fire District Chief Scott Chestnut. “There’s different dead spots throughout Holt.”
Baker and Blackman are in the same situation, he said.
“Everybody has the same situation in the north area,” said Chestnut.
A total of 12 sites are needed, including the one in Holt, to ensure emergency radio area coverage. Each site requires FAA and Eglin AFB approval to deconflict any airspace issues.
Finding an alternate site
According to the county, finding a tower location in the Holt area was difficult between the number of sites available, Air Force conflicts and the needs of the system.
The site requires a half-mile radius, a willing seller, no FAA or other aviation interference and is not located in a residential area, according to Coffey. Utilities and site development costs were also considerations.
As part of a countywide broadband project, the county has future plans to run fiber optics to the site. The Holt tower is also expected to host point-to-point wireless broadband.
District 2 County Commissioner Carolyn Ketchell requested Coffey to return to the board in two weeks with more information on the alternate site.
“They are going to live with this forever once we put this thing up,” she said about residents living on Cooper Lane potentially with a 300-foot tower. “When we said we would put these towers up, we said we would put them in places that would not be intrusive to people’s properties.”
The primary location was a little bit closer to a cluster of houses than locations in other parts of the county, according to Holt’s District 3 Commissioner Nathan Boyles.
“I wanted to make sure that residents in my district knew about the proposed tower before it got built,” he said. “The new site is more remote.”
While the wooded property on Cooper Lane met all the requirements, residents there were not too happy with the prospects of walking out their doors and seeing the tower looming over them.
“I bought that property about two years ago because it wasn’t around big power line sources, towers or anything like that,” said resident Tommy Lee Rice who also attended the meeting. “I’d like to keep it the way it is.”