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Sprint sues county over cell tower dispute 

Denial of Sprint’s plan to place cell phone towers on a remote Toro Creek mountaintop near Highway 41 West has landed the SLO County Board of Supervisors in federal court.

Sprint PCS Assets, LLC, and landowners Ed and Nancy Harden filed a lawsuit alleging the company’s rights under the federal Telecom Act of 1996 were violated by the supervisors’ December vote against a proposed cell tower complex.

Supervisors voted against the project after finding that the landowners illegally graded the rural mountaintop and an access road, and the proposed site work did not include adequate restoration for the extensive unpermitted grading. Their action reversed an earlier 3-2 approval by the county Planning Commission.

Sprint’s legal complaint states that the proposed antennas, microwave dishes, and 1,440-square-foot building are needed to fill a gap in the cell phone company’s coverage.

It alleges that the county’s denial of the cell phone facility prohibits Sprint from “providing personal wireless services in the county.” The suit also claims the county discriminated against Sprint.

Both actions, according to the documents filed by Sprint and the Hardens, are a violation of the Telecom Act.

County Counsel Warren Jensen and Deputy County Counsel Tim McNulty filed an answer to the complaint on April 1, denying the various allegations. The county asked for the complaint to be dismissed, and for Sprint and the Hardens to pay the county’s attorney fees and costs.

A federal judge in Santa Ana recently issued an order requiring the two sides to meet to establish dates for depositions and a trial, McNulty said. That meeting will likely take place by telephone before the end of May, he added.

David Darge, a member of Toro Creek Alliance—a local citizens group that opposed the cell facility—said in an interview, “Our little community is saying, ‘Why in the world does a big company get to push around the county?’ Sprint shouldn’t have the right to bully them.”

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