SARASOTA, Fla. - Hidden River is a unique community in Sarasota County where pilots are neighbors and planes are used to commute for fun. Several residents, though, are worried their open airspace could be invaded by plans to build a nearly 200-foot cell phone tower.
The proposed cell phone tower would be in on their direct flight path, according to Tom Edleston, who lives in the Hidden River airport community.
"There's the camaraderie of all the other pilots and the experience that everybody brings to one another to help keep it safe," Edleston said.
He and his community of pilots are against the proposed tower amid safety concerns.
"If they have an engine out they will instinctively turn right, lose altitude, attempt to turn back and hit that tower or at least it's another fact to remember and deal with in an emergency," Edleston said.
Communication Tower Group is the North Carolina-based company that filed the paperwork for the tower. The company has clients like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.
The company is asking for a special exception for 195-foot cell phone tower on a property owned by a family of non-pilots in the neighborhood.
"In an emergency that cell tower would be an obstacle. It would just be catastrophic," said Hidden River community resident Don Marteney. "We just don’t want it right on the end of our takeoff runway."
If the property was owned by a commercial airport, further studies would be required by the FAA. In a 10-year time span starting in 2008, the National Agricultural Aviation Association documented 40 tower-related accidents with planes, including 36 deaths.
"There's smaller versions of cellular systems, and they only require short 10-15-foot towers, or put this anywhere else. Anything else would be less intrusive," said resident Jeff Johnson.
The company is in their pre-application process. Before plans take off, residents hope the tower will be grounded. Other residents of Old Miakka also expressed their concerns, including drainage and flooding, visibility from adjacent properties and lack of compatibility with the rural area.
The company could have their application finalized within a month or so.
"If you want to put a cell tower up, don’t put it in the traffic pattern of an established flying community," said Edleston.