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[TowerTalk] My permit story ...

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Subject: [TowerTalk] My permit story ...
From: (Jim Johnson)
Date: Thu, 09 Dec 1999 08:20:47 -0800
   I'm sitting on a fresh building permit for a tower, obtained 
a few weeks ago.  Here's a synopsis of my experience ......

   I live in Silicon Valley (San Francisco Bay Area) in
Santa Clara County.  My property is in the county, not in
a city or town.  The rules are clear on tower height limits
and the limit for this county is 60 feet.  So I did not have
to fight the county using PRB-1 as a weapon.  However, I did
need to have a building permit in order to ensure the tower
was erected using sound engineering principles and methods.

   My property is about 8 miles from the nearest airport,
so I did not need any clearance from the FAA.  There is a
rule though, about so many feet of height allowed according
to the number of feet you are located from an airport.  Once
you know the number of feet cited in the rule (can't remember
what it is offhand), a quick calculation will tell you whether
you have to get involved in it or not.  As far as I know, the
FCC does not get involved in tower erection issues (permissions)
at all, as they are considered local to your area and are bound
by local rules.

   The hoops through which you need to jump seem to vary quite
a bit, depending upon where you are located.  I couldn't tell
from your post where you are, but here you are required to 
have a site plan (drawing of your property showing the location
of the tower and where your property lines are so that if the
tower falls it won't end up in your neighbor's property).  This
is a drawing you can make yourself, as long as it conforms to
the county's rules (minimum size is 18" X 24" with 1/8" high
lettering minimum).  Next, you need two copies of wet-stamped 
calculations from the tower manufacturer.  In my case, I'm 
putting up a US Towers TX455 and they charged me $50 each for
the wet-stamped calcs (drawings).  By "wet-stamped", I mean
the drawings are stamped by a registered professional engineer,
who accepts liability for the structural integrity of the tower
design and manufacture.  That's why they are $50 each.  There
is no way around this requirement - no wet-stamped calcs, no
permit ... period.  This one requirement is the main reason
why most people put up used towers without a permit.  Old
towers often are sold to people without calcs and if you
contact the manufacturer (as I did with an old Tri-Ex tower)
and ask for them, they will often say "the tower is not 
currently manufactured, the wet-stamp on our drawings has
expired, and the tower does not meet current code for
construction practices".  Without a current wet-stamp, no
permit.  Now, if you can find a registered PE who is willing
to take an old design and certify its structural integrity,
then apply his current wet stamp to it, you're on your way.
Unfortunately, I can't imagine a PE who is willing to put
his career on the line to certify an old, obsolete tower for
a measly $2000 or so (often more costly than a new tower).

   Lets see ... then there are the inspections.  The county
has a building inspector, then the concrete pour and strength
tests are done, and there is the electrical inspector too.
The county building inspector looks at the hole and the rebar
structure that has been built for the concrete block.  The
concrete inspector (an additional $400) takes three samples
of the pour (as it's being poured) and takes them to a lab
for strength testing (after 28 days).  I questioned the 
electrical inspection as it's an armstrong crankup (no AC 
power involved) and the rotor has low voltage going to it.  
The reason for the electrical inspection is for the grounding 
of the tower (lightning protection).  An additional drawing was 
needed describing exactly how the tower will be grounded and the
inspector will be there to check it.  I thought I was finished
until the county called and said I also need clearance from
the county health department verifying that the tower base
is at least ten feet away from my septic tank leach field.
That required another few hours off of work and a drive to
the government center again, but the approval was straightforward.

   One inspection that I talked my way out of was the "soils"
inspection.  Unfortunately, the amount of hassle you go through
depends upon who you get at the counter the day you apply for
the permit.  When you get someone who is clueless about radio
towers (about 90% of them) they assume it's a cellular phone
tower and start spouting off things like "soils inspection",
FAA clearance, etc.  But if you talk to somebody else, they
agree that a soils inspection is only necessary if you live
in a hilly area and you're putting the tower on sloped ground
that may give way in a rainstorm or earthquake.  Since that is
not my situation, I saved another $2000 by getting the guy to
waive the soils report.

   So now you can see why so many hams put up towers without
building permits.  The problem is, all it takes is one phone
call from an irate neighbor, and it's all over for your
tower installation if it wasn't installed with a permit. I've
seen it happen and I wasn't willing to go through the pain
and expense of having to take down a tower and abandon the
prime location for it by having to start over in another

   Sorry for the long post, but I recently obtained this permit
and it's all fresh in my mind.  Good luck with yours!

Jim W6SC


  Jim Johnson                 
  Agilent Laboratories
  "Innovating the HP Way"

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