With the next planning and zoning commission meeting set for Wednesday, neighbors of the United Trinity Methodist Church are pointing to a recent gas explosion in San Francisco as evidence for why a proposed cell tower on the site should not be approved.
The tower, proposed on the church’s land by Pinnacle Consulting, who works on behalf of Verizon Wireless, would sit near three Kinder Morgan interstate gas pipelines that also pass under the church's property.
Residents worry that the construction of such a tower, which would also require the installation of an electric utility line under the three gas pipelines, could make the likelihood of an accident much higher.
Just last week in San Francisco, a 4-inch distribution gas line exploded when a construction company working on behalf of Verizon was installing fiber optic cables.
Although the investigation into what caused the explosion is ongoing, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the gas line had been properly marked by the company that owned the line.
No one was killed, but Carrie Warman, who lives near the proposed cell tower site and works on California gas pipeline projects as an environmental biologist, said she believes the incident highlights the danger of building near a gas line.
“These are very real and very serious risks,” Warman said.
Brooks Hart, who also lives near the proposed site, agreed, adding it is a risk that is left undressed in Pinnacle Consulting’s application.
“As a condition of the conditional use permit, they must make the finding that the proposed use will not be detrimental to health, safety or welfare -- how can you make that finding [with the gas pipeline there]?” Hart said.
In the section on whether the tower's development may be detrimental to public health or safety, the application Pinnacle submitted to the city does not mention the pipeline only saying: “there are no foreseen possible hazards to people due to explosion or contamination and flooding.”
“Their application shows that [Pinnacle, Verizon] and the city do not understand the dangers of the pipeline,” Hart said.
According to Jeannine Brew, a spokesperson for Verizon, although Verizon obviously want their towers to be in areas that do not endanger the public, they generally rely on local regulatory groups to make those calls.
As such, Brew said while they would follow Kinder Morgan’s rules for crossing the easement, they will rely on a group like the planning and zoning commission to make the determination as to whether a tower may threaten public safety.
At the same time, while the city takes the utility easements themselves into consideration when reviewing an application, city planning development manager Neil Gullickson said staff doesn’t discriminate between what kind of utility it is.
For example, whether the easement is for a gas line, an electric utility or a water line, it generally would not influence city staff’s recommendation to the planning and zoning commission, Gullickson said. But the planning and zoning commission can take such concerns into consideration as they might relate to public safety.
Kinder Morgan also relies on a body such as the planning and zoning commission to help protect the line. Although the company owns the pipeline itself, the easement for the land along the line only gives the company limited control.
Gullickson said it is also important to consider that for the city to say no to a development, they are essentially denying a group's property rights.
“People do need to remember the church has land rights,” Gullickson said.
According to a report by the Pipeline Informed Planning Alliance, it is considered best practice to take pipelines into account when making a land use decision.
In fact, the report suggests municipalities develop a planning area for large gas lines of 660 feet on either side of the line. In this way, municipalities can “make risk-informed decisions regarding land use planning and development in locations where residences and businesses are increasingly in proximity to transmission pipelines.”
The planning and zoning commission is expected to again take up the issue of the proposed cell tower on Wednesday.
Updated at 1:53 p.m. on Feb. 13.