DANVILLE — Despite letters to city officials confirming that the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration and Provena United Samaritans Medical Center are not opposed to AT&T's plans to build a 199-foot cellular tower 300 yards northwest of the hospital's helicopter landing pad, some Danville aldermen and residents still object, believing the tower poses a safety risk to helicopter flights.
Last week, Alderman Bill Black, Ward 7, wanted the Danville City Council to send the issue back to the city's zoning board of appeals, which granted AT&T a variance to build the 199-foot tower. Alderman Lois Cooper, Ward 2, agrees and also would still like to send it back for consideration.
Cooper said Wednesday that she's still not convinced that putting the cell tower in the proposed spot is a good idea.
"I'm still opposed to it. I feel there are better locations for the tower," said Cooper, who added that she hasn't fully digested all the documents and letters that city administrators sent to aldermen Friday night.
AT&T official John Quinn has asked aldermen to reserve judgment until after the company tethers a balloon in the proposed site of the tower, so aldermen can visualize its location in relation to the helipad.
If AT&T is granted a permit to build the tower, Provena's helipad wouldn't be the only one in the state with a tower nearby.
In Carthage, a 425-foot tower sits 705 yards to the northeast of the helipad at Carthage Memorial Hospital, according to the IDOT;s directory of helipads in Illinois. In DuQuoin, an unlit tower is 500 feet west of Marshall Browning Hospital's helipad, and according to hospital administrator Edwin Gast, a cellular tower is north of the helipad in a farm field. The tower is about 1,500 feet north of the pad. Gast said the cellular tower is lit.
Over the weekend, Mayor Scott Eisenhauer sent aldermen copies of the three letters. In one letter, Provena Chief Executive Officer Mike Brown states that the hospital takes no position on the tower.
"We are neither in support nor opposition of this tower. Our concern is the safety and quality of care for our patients. We asked from the City of Danville — through (the mayor's) office — to do all you could to help insure that the placement of this tower would not impede our ability, now or in the future, to utilize the helipad in its current location."
Another letter states that IDOT does not believe the tower would compromise the helipad.
Linda Schumm, bureau chief of aviation safety with IDOT, states: "We have determined the proposed antenna does not compromise the northwest approach to the Provena United Samaritans helipad. Based on the proposed location for the antenna, the helipad will remain in compliance with the Illinois Aviation Safety Rules."
And the third letter, from AT&T, states that the FAA determined the tower would not be a hazard to air navigation. And AT&T says it will light the tower.
Black argues that the tower could also threaten the existence of the hospital's landing pad if the tower were built and IDOT receives complaints from pilots, risking decertification of the hospital's landing pad. Brown told aldermen last month that the hospital does not have another site for a landing pad, unless it goes to great expense building one.
Josh Kauffman, IDOT spokesman, said if his department were to receive a notice regarding a helipad, the agency would look into the issue and analyze it further to determine if a next step would be needed. He said it would not mean an immediate decertification of the helipad. He said many aspects would be analyzed depending on the request or the issue presented, and the agency would continue working with the hospital regarding the issue.
Eisenhauer said city officials have also recently spoken with Holly Morgan, business manager who oversees flight operations for Air Life, the company that flies out of Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana. Morgan did not return News-Gazette calls seeking comment. But Eisenhauer said Morgan told city administrators that lighting the tower would be helpful, and although it was not an ideal location for the tower, the helicopters would be flying above the tower as they approach the landing pad.
About the proposed tower
Cell tower design
The 199-foot cellular tower would be a monopole, or single-pole, design that's 6 to 7 feet at its base and 24 inches at the top, with no supporting wires extending from it. And it will be lit at all times as requested by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
The tower would be 900 feet — three football fields — to the northwest of the landing pad and 150 feet — one and a half football fields — south of the nearest helicopter flight path. Flights from various hospitals in the region, including Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, fly in and out of Provena's site. But the majority of flights follow the landing pad's southwest path while a minority of flights follow the northwest path, the one that would be nearest the tower.
The site of the cell tower is at a lower elevation, 560 feet above sea level, so the top of the 199-foot tower would be at an elevation of 759 feet. The helicopter landing pad and hospital are at 600 feet elevation, a difference of 159 feet. According to city officials, Air Life officials have indicated that helicopters following the northwest flight path would not only be flying 150 feet north of the cellular tower, but 120-140 feet above the top of the tower as they approach the hospital.
The hospital's helipad sits in a small parking lot north of the hospital, and the tower would be 900 feet northwest of the hospital and the helipad on ground that's 40 feet lower than the helipad.
Sources: John Quinn with AT&T Wireless and city of Danville