SHERIDAN — Officials with the city of Sheridan will soon have to balance the preservation of the rustic details of the city and the most advanced and efficient technology communication companies offer. The city of Sheridan has started discussions to prepare for anticipated applications for technological growth in Sheridan.
Before starting contract work for the city of Sheridan, Bob Duchen worked with cities in Idaho, North Dakota, Nebraska and New Mexico to help prepare and establish ordinances to ensure cities’ compliance with Federal Communications Commission regulations. He also helped municipalities develop requirements to preserve their beauty and charm.
The city of Sheridan paid River Oaks Communication Corporation out of Colorado, represented by Duchen, $4,265.25 in November to receive the same services — preparing the city for communication entities looking to improve services in the area. Mayor Roger Miller asked if the services would be temporary and if city staff could be trained on practices Duchen is currently putting in place. Duchen said the process of establishing an ordinance regulating communication companies will be a long-term commitment.
City administrator Mark Collins said the city received notice of interest from one communications carrier that wants to utilize space on a Main Street building.
“We just want to be in a position to say ‘you bet,’” Collins said. “We want to make sure that we’ve got good communications for our residents, our businesses, our community members, but at the same time, we want to be very sensitive, especially in our downtown, that we have something that’s not going to be intrusive or will anyway detract from that very, very important downtown Main Street area.”
Duchen shared with Sheridan City Council before and after photos of locations he previously worked with to ensure minimal intrusion of new communication structures. The structures, instead of resurrecting a brand-new tower within city limits, resembled an existing light pole, with adjustments including a wider base and taller pole extending past the original height of the light pole. Councilman Thayer Shafer pointed out that Sheridan’s downtown currently includes decorative lamp posts. Duchen said depending on FCC regulations and communication entities’ abilities, the companies might be able to recreate similar features while still maintaining functionality.
The city owns the lamp posts lining Main Street and works in conjunction with Montana-Dakota Utilities for other light fixtures in Sheridan. The city recently extended its franchise agreement with MDU into a 10-year contract allowing MDU Electric to continue to utilize the public right-of-way within the city limits to deliver their services to the community. The agreement establishes a 4 percent payment from MDU to the city annually of gross revenues collected through franchise fees. The agreement also advises MDU to participate in utility coordinating committees if created.
Duchen warned council of flippantly accepting or letting applications slip past them without notice. Some applications for additional communication structures will be written in a way that allows for an automatic granting if not responded to in a specific amount of time. Also, Duchen said companies asking to add “small cells,” might end up installing infrastructure larger than expected.
Duchen plans to help the city create an ordinance that complies with FCC requirements while including language to help maintain visual appeal within city limits. He is currently working with city attorney Greg Von Krosigk and utilities director Dan Roberts to create the ordinance. He said he would love to connect with Sheridan County as well, if county officials want help establishing requirements for communications services in the future.