Empathy and communication are two keys to keeping infrastructure permitting moving during the pandemic. That’s according to experts speaking Tuesday during a Wireless West Webinar titled: “Siting in a Time of COVID.”
Nate Walowitz of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, said: “Many of our communities in rural northwest Colorado are dealing with providers and towercos to try to figure out how to establish siting standards. As communities start to put guidance in place, from a regional perspective, we’re trying to push those out to other communities – for lessons learned.” Having such standards helps providers too, he added, to know more about what to expect.
Patience is key, according to Rodrigo De La Rosa of T-Mobile. Like telecom workers, local community permitting officials are also learning how to telecommute from home and convert processes online. “Be good, be quick and be gone,” he said, emphasizing it’s best to make your case efficiently.
Michael Way of Caldwell Compliance said his company is seeing state environmental and historic preservation offices “pretty well equipped” for online permitting, however some tribal offices remain closed due to the pandemic, which “puts a pause on the process.” He’s hopeful the stakeholders can “find a way to move forward.”
As budgets are cut due to the pandemic, some permitting may need to be prioritized. “How do we balance the goal of getting sites on-air,” getting localities to comply with shot-clocks while being mindful of potential municipality internal challenges? asked moderator John Koos of Butler America Telecom.
If projects do need to be prioritized, make sure there’s a tolling agreement in place, and that it has an end date, suggested De La Rosa. “You can’t just leave it open-ended. Make sure you have a date to start the clock again.”
Rochelle Swanson of Crown Castle said, “When a county or city makes cuts, they’re looking at where revenue is coming in.” Look at your build schedule and try to forecast how big of an application load you’re planning on, she suggested. “It may be necessary to have tolling agreements on a couple [of projects,] but maybe there’s a slowdown in residential construction as well” or in other builds that localities had in the pipeline. That could create an opportunity for telecom projects, Swanson said.
Panelists agreed it will be interesting to see what portions of the permitting process that have moved online remain after the shelter in place edicts end. The webinar was the third in a series. Access it here. Also announced this week, next year’s Wireless West Conference is slated for April 19-21, in San Diego.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief