The Federal Communications Commission says the city of Medford violated a federal rule by not registering a controversial police communications tower in east Medford before construction.
On Feb. 1, FCC Agent Binh Nguyen investigated a complaint that the 130-foot tower at Valley View Drive and Ridge Way wasn't registered and on Feb. 11 issued a notice of violation. Since then, the city has registered the antenna with the FCC, and city officials say the oversight was the result of a misinterpretation of federal rules.
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 site — the Hamilton and Edith Patton House, built in 1929 at the intersection of Valley View Drive and Capital Avenue. 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 Rogue Valley Mall.
Neighbors near the tower didn't receive notification from the city before its construction, but city officials maintained they are exempt from following the normal development procedures.
The City Council will continue a public hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday to determine whether the city is, in fact, exempt from requiring a development permit for the tower.
Dave Wood, whose property line is 53 feet from the new tower, said the lack of notice to the community, combined with the FCC violation, indicates the city tried to push the tower through without following the proper channels.
"You trust the government to do what's right," he said. "You would never expect in a million years that a city government would conduct itself in this manner."
Wood said the city should conduct an inquiry to determine what went wrong with the process of public notification.
Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen said his department had the incorrect impression that it only needed to register the tower with the FCC after the communications equipment was installed on it.
"They explained how we were wrong in the interpretation," he said.
When the police department filed its application with the FCC, Schoen said, he wasn't aware that the Patton house was located nearby.
He said a box was checked on the application that there were no historic sites nearby.
"We didn't know of the house," he said. "We've asked the FCC to define what that means."
He said he doesn't yet know what a site review of the Patton House will involve, or what the implications are for the new tower.
"I was told that you could see the existing tower from the house, but not the new tower," he said.
Schoen said he blames himself for the miscommunication over the tower and not following through with his earlier directive to alert the public that the police wanted to build a new tower.
"I wish I had a do-over on all this," he said.
Councilman Bob Strosser said he didn't want to comment any further on the tower because the City Council would be making a decision on the matter Thursday.
"I have said it publicly that just because it was legally permissible for us to do this, it doesn't mean it was the right thing to do," he said.
Councilman Chris Corcoran said he wasn't aware of the FCC violation or the potential problem with the tower being located near an historic site.
Despite the misstep with alerting neighbors, he said the city has tried to be more transparent with the public recently.
"This is frustrating for me," he said. "It is a step backward."
He noted that it was the council that suggested the neighbors appeal the tower, and it's also why the council left the record open for an additional seven days after a Feb. 17 hearing.
"It's just the process that frustrates people, and I don't blame them," he said.
Buzz Thielemann, another tower neighbor, said local residents are uncovering more and more problems with the way the city handled the tower project.
"The most apparent thing is they didn't notify the neighborhood," he said.
Wood, his neighbor, said that in his view the city's only recourse to make things right is to take down the tower.
"They should start all over again," he said. "They should start from the very beginning."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail email@example.com.