Proponents, opponents and decision makers will converge Wednesday on the site of a controversial proposed cell tower at Missionary Ridge.
At issue is whether the tower would compromise the "viewshed" from Bragg Reservation, a national Civil War park on Missionary Ridge.
"All indications right now are that it would," said Kay Parish, executive director of Friends of the Park. "Looking out from Bragg, you can understand why it was such a crucial place in the resolution of the Civil War. For all of the teachers and students, tourists and residents who visit there, seeing a cell tower would have a major negative impact on the experience."
A few years ago, the city of Chattanooga in partnership with Friends spent approximately $30,000 in clearing park property to open the western view to provide a better idea of what the union and confederate armies encountered in the battle for Chattanooga, she said.
The Tennessee Historical Commission initially had no objection to Wireless Properties' plan to build the tower at 2897 E. Main Street, a kudzu-covered lot near South Seminole Drive. The decision was based on a report from Paul Archambault of the Southeast Tennessee Development District. However, Mr. Archambault later reversed his opinion, saying he did not have full information at the time.
The city Variance Board approved a special exemptions permit for construction of the 150-foot tower with the knowledge that its vote would have no standing over the state historical commission, which is considering an appeal by opponents of the project.
The meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. and will consist of representatives from the Historical Commission, Wireless Properties, the Missionary Ridge Neighborhood Association, the National Park Service, Friends of the Park, Cornerstones and any other interested parties.
Participants will then go to Bragg Reservation to gain another perspective and conclude with a "fact gathering" session at the MRNA Community Center (formerly a fire hall).
Matt Bates of Wireless Properties said he hopes the differing sides "can find a middle ground."
According to Mr. Bates, his company has exhausted its options for an alternative site. "We don't have a lot of tall buildings like Atlanta that could be utilized," he said. "We feel that we've complied with all of the regulations, and we've found the best site we can to serve the needs of cell phone operators, particularly those traveling through the Ridge Cut."
Mr. Bates said his company had already agreed to lower the height of the tower from 180 feet to 150 feet and planned to paint it brown "so as not to be so obtrusive."
He also said that Wireless would be willing to put in writing that it would not later raise the tower.
But Dwayne Smith, communications director of the Missionary Ridge Neighborhood Association, said, "There is a loophole in the National Preservation Act that wireless carriers and tower companies frequently take advantage of and use to get their foot in the door and then raise the tower without further review or approval. Furthermore, any legally binding agreement is worthless unless individuals or organizations are willing to continually monitor the situation and pursue civil action in a court of law to enforce the terms of the agreement."
Because members of organizations change over the years, he said he fears that people will forget about the agreement and that "Wireless will get by with breaking the terms." For that reason he said the Association opposes any cell tower on the site "no matter what height."
Joe Garrison of the Historical Commission would not say when a decision will be made.
"It's an ongoing project, and we don't discuss it," he stated.