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City of McAllen to sue state over Senate Bill 1004

The city of McAllen plans to sue the state over Senate Bill 1004.

The city of McAllen plans to sue the state over Senate Bill 1004.

The legislation, which takes effect September 1st, states that cities cannot charge telecommunications companies for putting up wireless transmitters in the public right-of-way.

"The state has, with all due respect, sort of appropriately pre-empted the city's right to regulate our public lands and the use of our public lands, and we're very concerned about that,” said McAllen city attorney Kevin Pagan.

SB 1004 significantly restricts cities from regulating construction, development, and maintenance of network structures and wireless sites. It also prohibits cities from entering into franchise agreements with telecommunication companies for the use of public land or right-of-way.

"It's not just where the streets and sidewalks are,” Pagan said. “There's also electric cables, telephone cables, gas lines, electric lines, telephone lines. All of those things are in what we call the right-of-way. So it's our job, responsibility to actually manage that, so that when you want telephone service or gas service at your house, then there is an orderly way of doing that.”

85-year-old Timoteo Urbina has lived off 16 ½ street in McAllen for more than 10 years and says a large telecommunications tower has stood next to his home ever since he moved in. He says, other than it being an eye sore, he hasn't felt safe living next to a cell phone tower.

"It isn't necessary to be visible somewhere so close to where people live,“ Urbina said. “They should be properly set up out of range from homes in the city.”

Pagan says due to the Rio Grande Valley's demand, cellular data providers have proposed to install several thousand above ground poles with what, he says, are unattractive-looking structures attached on top.

"All of the cities that I've spoken with, at least their city attorneys, are very concerned about the impact of this--both on the aesthetics and on the control of the right-of-way,” said Pagan. “And then of course, the fact that they're basically giving away the public land to private companies. I mean that's what this is.”

Pagan says the bill will restrict cities from negotiating reasonable compensation for the use of public property. According to the Texas Municipal League, this means an estimated loss of more than $800 million on a yearly basis to cities.

"The main goal with this lawsuit would be to return the control of the right-of-way to the people who have for hundreds of years have managed it and that's the city,” Pagan said.

Pagan's office has been in contact with several other cities across the Valley and state to join forces in fighting the bill. Pagan says the lawsuit is expected to be filed in the next few months.

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