Heath's 911 Tower Trouble

Suzanne Goldsmith

Licking County residents may have been surprised this summer to learn that 22 Native American tribes charged the county a total of $14,150 in fees to review its plan for a new 911 communications tower in Heath. But county officials had encountered such fees before.

The review is triggered any time federally funded or licensed construction will disturb land that might contain evidence of settlements by native tribes. Commissioner Tim Bubb says the county is “ground zero” for such artifacts because of the many flint deposits in the region. For millennia, tribes would visit the area to mine the stone then camp or build villages nearby to fashion arrowheads and other implements.

Ben Barnes, second chief of the Shawnee Tribe, points out that the large number of tribes with links to the area reflects the way they fractured in the wake of their forced removal from Ohio in the 1830s.

Several tribes actually waived fees in light of the tower's public purpose. In the first round of reviews, four eligible tribes declined fees totaling $1,900; several more later returned approximately $4,500, according to Sean King, the director of the communications center. He's pleased the process did not delay the tower, which will be completed in November.

Cell service providers are more upset. In February, Sprint complained to the Federal Communications Commission that historic review has cost the company $23 million nationally and caused many delays. The FCC responded by lifting the requirement for smaller towers that companies plan to build as they roll out 5G service. About 20 tribes are fighting the change in federal court.

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