Posted on: May 5, 2022

Water Treatment Plant 1 Upgrade and Cell Phone Tower Project Q&A

May 2022

The Public Utilities Department updating and modernizing the water plant. This will make it much more energy-efficient and reliable as well as provide better continuity of service during a hurricane or other severe storm event. The water tower was originally constructed in 1955 and has served the City well, but the salt air has taken its toll on it and it either needs to be removed or replaced at great cost. With the new pumps that will be installed at the water plant, the water tower isn't needed to maintain water pressure in the system so there isn't a need to replace it. Meanwhile, there is a continuing need to provide a site for a cell tower to maintain cell coverage, so Verizon will be erecting a cell tower to transfer their antennas to.

 Water Treatment Plant 1 (WTP 1) is a critical component to the City’s public drinking water system and provides a substantial portion of our potable water supply. The major components of WTP 1 are wells for the raw water supply, two raw water storage tanks, service pumps for system supply and pressure and a water tower. Gas chlorination is used to disinfect the water prior to pumping it into the distribution system. The water tower at WTP 1 was constructed in 1955, and the last substantial upgrade at WTP No. 1 was completed in 1992, and is approaching the end of its useful service life.

 The City operates two additional water plants (WTP 2 & 3) that provide substantial potable water supply to the distribution system and one very small water plant (WTP 4) that provides a very minimal amount of potable water. All of the water plants communicate with each other through a SCADA system. This provides for redundancy and allows for water to be pumped into the distribution system in an efficient manner. 

 Currently, water system pressure in the City is limited by the height of the water tower at WTP 1 as well as the water tower at WTP 2. As a result of this limitation, some areas of the City currently do not achieve optimal system pressure to meet customer expectations. Resolving these issues will require modernization of the City’s water system, including upgrading the service pumps to modern variable speed drive pumps, replacing the gas chlorination system with liquid chlorine, and updating the SCADA control system. 

 Modernizing WTP 1 is a logical location to begin the modernization process of the City’s potable water system. This is due to the age of the service pumps and the fact that the water tower requires significant rehabilitation. The City hired J. Collins Engineering Associates to assist with an evaluation of what will be required to upgrade WTP 1.   The results of this analysis include the following recommendations: 

  • Replace the existing service pumps with modern variable speed drive service pumps that can vary the pressure depending on system demand.
  • Replace the gas chlorination disinfection system with liquid sodium hypochlorite which is safer and easier to manage.
  • Upgrade the electrical system to handle the new service pumps.
  • Upgrade the SCADA system to provide better operational control.
  • Dismantle the water tower since it will no longer be needed with the addition of variable speed drive service pumps.
  • These updates will allow for more reliable operation and system pressures that aren’t limited by the height of the water tower. Following the modernization of WTP 1, WTP 2 will receive similar upgrades. WTP 3 will likely require minimal upgrades and WTP 4 will be abandoned. 

The total estimated costs for the WTP 1 upgrades, including dismantling the water tower and engineering & design is approximately $1,300,000. The first step in this process is to dismantle the water tower and work with Verizon to transfer their cell antennas to a temporary tower, followed by construction of a permanent monopole tower where the water tower is now.

 A temporary cell tower, called a “cell on wheels” or COW, is being erected behind the water plant while the water tower is demolished, and will be used until a new cell tower is built where the water tower is now.  It will be at the same height as the antennas are now on the water tower.


When is the temporary tower being installed? Likely in early May.

  • Are cell towers safe? 
    1. The FCC regulates cell phone towers. Exposure levels from cell phone towers must comply with the FCC's radiofrequency (RF) radiation exposure guidelines, which were developed to protect the public from RF-related health risks.
    2. Here are the FCC’s answers to frequently asked questions about the safety of radiofrequency (RF) and microwave emissions from transmitters and facilities regulated by the FCC
    3. Here is FCC publication “Human Exposure to Radio Frequency Fields: Guidelines for Cellular Antenna Sites”:
    4. The American Cancer Society reports that evidence doesn’t yet support the notion that living, working, or going to school near a cell phone tower increases the risk of having health problems; still, most expert organizations agree more research is needed. The American Cancer Society generally looks to other expert organizations to determine if something causes cancer (that is, if it is a carcinogen), including the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization; and the U.S. National Toxicology Program, which is formed from parts of several different government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), CDC, and FDA. 
  • If cell towers are found to be unsafe, can the City kick the Verizon towers out? I have the utmost confidence that if cell towers are deemed to be unsafe, the City would take immediate action to have them removed. 
  • When has this been discussed publicly in AB? A presentation was made by City staff to the City Commission on Jan. 25, 2021. 
    1. Here is the staff report/agenda item published in the Jan. 25, 2021, City Commission meeting agenda:
    2. Here are the Jan. 25, 2021, meeting minutes:
    3. Here is the Jan. 25, 2021, meeting video: 
  • What can be done to prevent cell phone towers from being erected in/near neighborhoods? Our best advice is to communicate concerns with elected officials at all levels. We can provide contact info.
  • Will the cell tower be a stronger power than what is there now? No. Will this tower be more powerful (dangerous) than the few antennas on the water tower? No, and we don’t think the number of antennas is increasing.
  • What is the significance of the map that designates the quarter mile radius around the tower? It is intended to serve as a point of reference – to provide scale. Is the (safe) radiation stronger within that area? No 
  • Is this also happening at the water tower near The Atlantic Beach Country Club? Or anywhere else in Atlantic Beach? Like at WTP No. 1, the water tower at WTP No. 2, near ABCC, has had cell antennas affixed to it for a quite a few years. We aren’t aware of any imminent changes there other than the carrier replacing antennas every now and again. Otherwise, we are not aware of any areas in AB where cell antennas are proposed where there are not already existing antennas. 




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