A Pilot Comments on BMB’s Proposed Mega-Tower

The following was written by a Crystal Lake pilot. Here is the story about last Wednesday’s McHenry County College Board meeting.

The Towering Inferno

This business proposal is to construct a 1,500 foot AGL (Above Ground Level) communications tower only two miles north of Crystal Lake. To paraphrase the movie ‘Jerry Maguire’, several members of the McHenry County College (MCC) Board might as well have said ‘You had me at $6 million dollars’.

You can’t blame them entirely for considering selling a few of acres of land, adjacent to the county college, for what appears to be a healthy offer from John Maguire (unrelated) and Oklahoma’s BMB Communications. Its stated purpose is to provide radio transmission facilities, which may seem a redundant and unnecessary service to anyone dialing their car radio.

It is a one-time large injection of capital into the immediate area for its construction and another into MCC’s coffers to purchase land.

BMB has been in touch with the MCC board for a year or so and this presentation to them and members of the community touched on several concerns the local residents might have.

Many issues – potential collapse of the tower, considerable construction traffic on existing school roads, possible health risks due to transmission signals, and hazards to aircraft traffic – were touched on.

They are very proud of their proposed project, which would be the Largest Self- Supporting Radio Tower on the Planet.

Aside from the John Hancock building whose antenna masts also rise to 1,500 feet AGL and the Sears Tower at 1,730 feet AGL, you would have to go out west of Cedar Rapid, IA (1,518 feet), west of Madison, WI (1,423 feet), or north of La Crosse, WI (1,589 feet) to find any obstruction of similar height.

Most of the radio towers of this size are clustered near similarly sized obstacles or out in the boondocks, out of sight and out of harms way.

Compensation to MCC based on a half dozen planned radio stations seems out of proportion to its size and is suspiciously incomplete. My own expertise in the electronic or structural risks posed by the tower’s presence is non-existent.

However, two of the issues, one addressed and one avoided, need examination.

First – one presenter stated the tower is far enough away from O’Hare so that it wouldn’t pose a problem.

This is absolutely untrue.

The presence of O’Hare and its unusual controlled airspace design forces local and transient aircraft to fly below its ‘upside-down wedding cake’ shape. An aircraft transiting the area would be stuck between a 1,500 foot AGL tower and below the restricted airspace at 3,000 foot AGL. With the impending expansion of O’Hare and its airspace, aircraft may be pushed even lower and closer to the tower.

More importantly, there are eighteen general aviation airports with 35 miles of MCC with training, business, and transient aircraft arriving and departing. The closest is Lake in the Hill Airport (LITH) only four miles south of MCC, placing the radio tower within the normal airport traffic area. Arriving traffic for LITH enter at 800 feet AGL, an altitude just about halfway down the radio tower.

Additionally, Centegra Hospital two miles away and Northern Illinois Medical Center six miles away dispatch emergency helicopters for local residents’ medical needs. Just this week the Aurora emergency helicopter service, Air Angels, shutdown after its second fatal accident. In October 2008, an Air Angels helicopter hit a much smaller local radio tower and then crashed below. Having the radio tower adjacent to a large and growing college campus poses this additional risk.

Even ignoring these factors, general aviation aircraft, flying East to West, routinely avoid flying over Lake Michigan for safety reasons, adding to the existing Northbound and Southbound transient traffic. This is particularly true in late summer when the annual Oshkosh (WI) gathering beckons and hundreds of amateur and professional pilots gather there and pass through our area.

Flying around a radio tower can be challenging – particularly for a transient pilot unaware of its existence.

Current federal visibility minimums combined with other flying duty distractions at low altitudes compresses time to maneuver away.

At night, skeletal constructions can be nearly invisible as radio tower lighting blends in with ground light sources, both on either side and through the radio tower. The aircraft’s altitude is its best safety margin and is unavailable at the proposed sight. In Mr. Maguire’s own words during the Q & A session, he stated,

‘If I were a pilot, I wouldn’t want this tower here either.’

Secondly – for a one-time infusion of capital during its construction, the local community will be looking at a massive skeletal structure, flashing a myriad of high intensity white and red hazard lights, 24 hours a day, – forever.

Imagine Paris’ Eiffel Tower (1,063 feet AGL), but 50% taller, not nearly as attractive, just north of our lake, without any associated employment, business related functions, or revenue streams.

It will be the first thing you see at dawn and the last thing at dusk – and all night if you can’t sleep. It will also be the first thing any prospective buyer of your home will see and not a charming quality when negotiating purchase price. It will be an undesirable element added to an already challenging real estate market.

Having the Largest Self-Supporting Tower on the Planet in your backyard is like having the Largest Battery on the Planet in your laptop computer; it is a huge disadvantage.

This gargantuan tower will be no economic boon to the community nor a tourist attraction.

In the future, its vacant lofty structure could be the sight of countless additional transmitters, not included in the health risk assessment.

A failed business plan or mismanagement could make it a dysfunctional eyesore with no one to pay for its dismantlement.

Its eternal winking bright lights will be a reminder of the past’s short sightedness.

BMB Associates will be back in Oklahoma, not living in its shadow.

It’s just business.

McHenry County College has meetings Monday night at 6 PM, where the issue is on the agenda (click to enlarge) and will be discussed, and, if the board decides to discuss it Thursday night, the meeting will be at 7 PM. It does not seem to be on the agenda now. Whether it is on the agenda or not, people are allowed three minutes to state their opinion near the beginning of the meeting.

The two tower renderings were in the presentation last Wednesday night. On the left is what it will look like bending under a 40 mile per hour wind.

Below, the principles talk to Trustee Donna Kurtz and student Trustee Tom Kendzie before the meeting. Kendzie is on the stairs. From left to right are Professional Engineer Ernie Jones, local attorney Tom Zanck, BMB’s John Maguire and radio engineer Al Kirschner. Kurtz has her back to the camera.

The plane landing at O’Hare, seen here behind the Hyatt Hotel, was taken from the tollway.

The tower you see is what was presented to the college board.

The Eiffel Tower has been superimposed on the MCC campus in the next photo.

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