Across the country, carriers are coordinating thousands of small cell, DAS, and macro cell deployment projects. Tower sites, collocations, small cells, DAS installations (including indoor installations), and modifications to existing antenna facilities require a review for potential impacts to the FCC’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Special Interest Items.
During coordination of these activities, it is important to determine which NEPA compliance tasks are needed as early as possible during the deployment process. First, compliance tasks like Section 106 can add 60 to 120 days to a project’s NTP timeline and thousands of dollars to a project’s budget. Second, and arguably the most critical, failure to complete the correct NEPA compliance tasks has real consequences with the FCC, resulting in potentially substantial fines or loss of a newly constructed site.
AlooviaTM … Why Now?
The FCC’s rules pertaining to NEPA and Section 106 compliance has changed significantly over the years. AlooviaTM was created to simplify and expedite preliminary NEPA and Section 106 compliance reviews and make it possible to keep initial compliance reviews in-house, without being an expert on the FCC’s rules and programmatic agreements.
Since 2001, there have been four major changes to NEPA and Section 106 compliance for wireless antenna sites. Each change has provided relief for sites unlikely to have significant impacts, and in doing that has established the documentation requirements to demonstrate compliance with the claimed exclusions.
2001: In March 2001, the FCC established criteria for Section 106 exclusions for collocations through the Nationwide Programmatic Agreement for the Collocation of Wireless Antennas (Collocation Agreement). The Collocation Agreement provided Section 106 relief for certain collocation sites, including collocations to towers, and collocations to non-tower structures that were under 45 years old and were unlikely to impact historic properties.
2005: The FCC provided further guidance on the process an FCC licensee is to take to ensure compliance with their historic preservation (Section 106) obligations through the Nationwide Programmatic Agreement Regarding the Section 106 National Historic Preservation Act Review Process (Programmatic Agreement) in March 2005. The Programmatic Agreement also provided Section 106 relief for sites in overhead utility right-of-ways, industrial parks/shopping centers, temporary sites, etc.
The Collocation Agreement and Programmatic Agreement provided appropriate compliance relief and protection to historic properties for several years, until technology upgrades and changes (think densification and small cells) made it necessary to review the existing processes, and make changes for upcoming large-scale infrastructure improvements.
2015: In the effort to further streamline compliance and facilitate large-scale broadband deployments, the FCC implemented two major changes to NEPA and Section 106 requirements. The changes introduced new exclusions for sites that are unlikely to have a significant environmental impact. The first round of changes were implemented as changes to FCC’s NEPA rules, outlined in 47 CFR §§1.1301-1.1319, and were introduced in a Report and Order (effective February 2015). Changes primarily afforded Section 106 exclusions to slight modifications to existing antenna sites on buildings and other non-tower structures that would have otherwise required Section 106 under the Collocation Agreement due to the age of the structure, and NEPA exclusions to certain sites located within active, overhead utility right-of-ways.
2016: The most recent changes were implemented through a revision to the 2001 Collocation Agreement, First Amendment to Nationwide Programmatic Agreement for the Collocation of Wireless Antennas (Amended Collocation Agreement), dated August 8, 2016. The Amended Collocation Agreement added Section 106 exclusions, primarily for deployments of small antennas and minimally visible antennas; the Section 106 exclusions in the Amended Collocation Agreement also included some relief for small antenna deployments within historic districts or on historic properties.
The intent of the changes in the Amended Collocation Agreement was to allow rapid deployment of small antenna sites that are unlikely to have significant environmental impacts to move forward with limited NEPA compliance actions. Specifically, they were intended to provide relief from the lengthy Section 106 review process for sites least likely to have impacts to historic properties. However, the working reality is that the rules are difficult to interpret, difficult to use, and therefore extremely difficult to apply to a real-world deployment. With potential fines or other penalties on the line, carriers and tower owners need to ensure the proper consideration of and documentation of NEPA compliance efforts. Further aggravating the problem is that each individual antenna site requires individual review.
AlooviaTM, a cloud-based solution, was developed to help carriers, tower owners, and their agents navigate FCC’s NEPA compliance requirements by taking the user through an easy to follow, step-by-step process. The report generated will outline what compliance actions are required and determine which of the FCC’s Special Interest Items apply. Most importantly, AlooviaTM will provide documentation for the user that the FCC’s NEPA rules were considered prior to deployment.
Real World Application
In the past, the vast majority of small cell installations would require lengthy and costly Section 106 review. The FCC’s amendments to its NEPA rules via the Report and Order and the Amended Collocation Agreement were intended to ease this burden on carriers and alleviate NEPA and Section 106 requirements for sites unlikely to have a significant environmental impact. Unfortunately, the resulting guidance is so complex, it requires an expert to successfully navigate the course and confirm potential NEPA and Section 106 exclusions.
As exemplified in the above flowchart, which is used to review a simple collocation to a utility structure, an arduous and complex evaluation is mandatory to ensure that the appropriate NEPA compliance tasks are identified. Matters are further complicated for reviews of antennas on buildings and other non-tower structures, with countless “if this, then that” scenarios and differing conditions for each situation. Each antenna support structure type requires different criteria to determine NEPA compliance tasks and each individual site necessitates independent review and documentation; similar sites cannot simply be lumped together.
Why You Need Allovia TM
AlooviaTM was created to take the uncertainty out of compliance reviews under NEPA. Prior to construction, tower sites, collocations, small cells, DAS installations, and modifications to any existing antenna site require review for potential impacts to the FCC’s Special Interest Items as outlined in 47 CFR §1.1307(a)(1) through (8) and §1.1307(b). For example, review for wilderness areas, wilderness preserves, threatened and endangered species and habitats, historic sites, Indian religious sites, floodplains, wetlands, high-intensity lighting, and radiofrequency radiation.
In a typical situation where a project manager is responsible for the budgets and timelines of hundreds of sites, avoiding unplanned delays and costs due to unforeseen NEPA and Section 106 compliance tasks can make the difference in a successful deployment. Early planning with AlooviaTM in the “SCIP” phase may guide carriers toward the candidate that is faster and less costly to NTP. The report prepared by AlooviaTM also provides the user with justification behind the outcome, allowing users to identify project changes that result in avoidance and minimization of delays and costs.
Before AlooviaTM, a large buildout would require a NEPA and Section 106 expert to process candidates and qualify the need for appropriate compliance tasks. AlooviaTM simplifies and streamlines the reviews by asking pointed and direct questions in a clear, step-by-step process. AlooviaTM allows anyone to complete the preliminary NEPA and Section 106 review.
Ramaker & Associates Inc. (RAMAKER) is a full-service consulting firm established in 1992, providing quality performance and unfailing support to our clients with expertise in a wide range of disciplines. RAMAKER’s staff consists of more than 100 professionals, including engineers, environmental scientists, land surveyors, water resources specialists, GIS programmers/analysts, information technology specialists, architects, and administrative personnel. Our primary office is located in Sauk City, Wisconsin, with regional offices in Kentucky, Ohio, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico.
RAMAKER is an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) and, as such, all shares are owned by the Ramaker & Associates Inc. ESOP Trust. As employee-owners, all RAMAKER employees have a vested interest in the performance and continued growth of the company.
RAMAKER has an extensive history of providing architecture and engineering, environmental due diligence and NEPA compliance packages to wireless carriers, telecommunications firms, and attorneys. For additional information about RAMAKER, log onto www.ramaker.com.
AlooviaTM was created to simplify and expedite preliminary NEPA and Section 106 compliance reviews and make it possible to keep initial compliance reviews in-house. AlooviaTM was born to provide clarity to NEPA and Section 106 compliance. AlooviaTM ensures compliance, reduces unnecessary time delays and eliminates wasted resources. For additional information on AlooviaTM, visit www.aloovia.com.
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