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City may dodge cell antennas by giving light poles to MES
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McMinnville officials are considering a measure to transfer the city’s decorative light poles to McMinnville Electric System. 

A bill passed by the Tennessee General Assembly allows AT&T and other cell carriers to place small cell antennas on any utility pole owned by a local government. No local government can opt out of the statute.

The best way to protect decorative light poles from the broadband intrusion is for municipalities not to own them, according to information presented during a Streets and Sanitation Committee meeting from Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association director of government relations Jeremy L. Elrod. 

City attorney Tim Pirtle agreed with his assessment. 

“A power company’s poles are exempt from being used by small cell carriers, whereas municipal poles are not,” said Pirtle. “If, in fact, small cell carriers elect to come into this market and exercise their rights, there is little, if anything, we can do to stop them.”

Officials expressed concerns last year about the legislation and how it would allow antennas to be placed on expensive decorative poles, as well as their less-than-desirable appearance. 

Mayor Ben Newman says the devices would be an eyesore.  

“The state has legislated the maximum amount we can charge them. We can’t charge anything more than that, and it’s not a whole lot of money for what could possibly be a monstrosity on our beautiful, decorative poles that we paid a lot of money for,” said Newman.

Spent was more than $5 million revitalizing downtown. Thousands of those dollars were spent relocating utilities underground and placing decorative poles. However, the bill allows municipalities to charge a maximum of $35 per authority-owned utility pole annually.

While McMinnville Electric System owns the decorative poles along Main Street, the city owns the ones on Morford Street and both Beersheba Street and Morrison Street bridges, approximately 30 to 35 poles. 

Committee members approved transfer of all city-owned decorative poles to McMinnville Electric System. Their decision requires full Board of Mayor and Aldermen approval.