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Communications Tower Collapses in Pine Grove Mills

by on November 30, 2019 1:10 PM

A telecommunications tower that had been in a state of disrepair collapsed amid heavy winds Wednesday night in Pine Grove Mills.

The tower, owned by SBA Communications, is located on Jackson Trail, off Route 26 on Rothrock State Forest land. It is used for broadcasting — including by WJAC-TV for its State College signal — and internet service providers.

According to minutes from Ferguson Township zoning hearings, SBA first sought a variance in 2017 to replace the existing lattice tower with a similar, 186-foot tower. Township zoning requires new towers to be monopoles, and while a setback variance was approved, the variance for a lattice tower was denied. The lattice tower was needed, an attorney for SBA said, to accommodate the size and amount of equipment.

Verizon had also been seeking to place equipment on the new tower at the time of the 2017 hearing.

SBA appealed that decision in July 2019 and was approved for the lattice tower, but it had not yet been installed.

Minutes from the 2017 hearings said the tower was "structurally failing." An attorney for SBA said at the hearing in July that the tower was likely to fall.

SBA media relations has not yet responded to requests for comment.

According to WJAC-TV, about 8,000 viewers have been affected and its engineers are working on a fix.

Local internet provider GetWireless is one of the companies that utilizes the tower for equipment. GetWireless is owned by Dan Myers, who is also the owner of StateCollege.com's parent company, Lazerpro Digital Media.

Shane Imler, whose communications company contracts with GetWireless to install and maintain equipment on towers, said that before it collapsed he was long unable to climb the tower for repairs because of its condition.

"It was marked as non-climbable because it was structurally failing," Imler said.

Imler said the tower, which had been marked unclimbable for at least six months, was in generally poor condition, appeared to be missing bolts and was in need of repairs or replacement. High, sustained winds on Wednesday eventually caused it to fall, he said.

Myers said he has been asking SBA replace the tower for more than three years and was told in 2017 that a new tower was in stock and ready for replacement. He said he was told by SBA on Friday that a building permit has not been issued for the replacement.

At the hearing in July, Myers said rural and business customers would lose internet service and some local television coverage when the tower failed and that it needed to be replaced as soon as possible. He added that the tower is located near a walking trail and that the collapse could have been dangerous.

About 25 residential and business internet customers were affected by the outage after the collapse. For some customers in the area served by the tower the equipment was a backup, but for others it is their only option for internet service, he said. GetWireless has been looking for an alternate tower, Myers said, but hasn’t been able to move or upgrade equipment because of the issues with the Pine Grove Mills tower. He hopes to have service restored to most customers by the middle of next week after replacing damaged equipment and finding a new tower.



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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