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Floyd County rules out Fossil and Prairie Park Preserve as site for communications tower

Floyd County rules out Fossil and Prairie Park Preserve as site for communications tower
Floyd County Fossil and Prairie Park Preserve. Submitted photo
By Bob Steenson,

An outpouring of support for Floyd County’s Fossil and Prairie Park Preserve, including the memorial to a Rockford Navy SEAL that is located there, resulted in the Board of Supervisors unofficially but almost certainly crossing off that location as a spot for a new county communications tower.

The county will instead look at negotiating with the owner of a neighboring property to purchase a small amount of land.

Supervisor Chair Mark Kuhn said when he woke up Wednesday morning he had 85 messages in his county email inbox from people asking that the 300-foot tower be located somewhere other than the park. Supervisor Jim Jorgensen, who represents the supervisor district where the park is located, said he received about 100 emails.

The messages came overnight from all over the country, Kuhn said, and included current and retired military personnel who knew or knew of Jon “JT” Tumilson.

Floyd County rules out Fossil and Prairie Park Preserve as site for communications tower
This memorial statue showing Rockford Navy SEAL Jon “JT” Tumilson and his dog, Hawkeye, is located at the Floyd County Fossil and Prairie Park Preserve, an area where Tumilson enjoyed running. Tumilson was killed Aug. 6, 2011, in Afghanistan when the Chinook helicopter in which he was riding was shot down while transporting a quick reaction force team to reinforce a unit of Army Rangers. Submitted photo

Tumilson was killed in Afghanistan in August 2011 when the Chinook helicopter in which he was riding was shot down while transporting a quick reaction force team to reinforce a unit of Army Rangers.

Thirty-eight people were killed when the chopper went down — 22 Navy SEALs and Naval Special Warfare support personnel, eight other American service members, seven Afghan commandos and one Afghan interpreter, as well as a U.S. military dog.

Many of the email messages sent to the supervisors had a common theme – they agreed with the plan to improve emergency communications in the county, but the tower should be located somewhere else.

The site of the freestanding tower would include a small building to contain equipment, a generator and a propane tank, all inside a 65-foot-by-65-foot chain link fence enclosure. It would also need vehicle access to construct and service it.

Placing the tower in the park “could irreversibly impact the tranquil setting that many have come to cherish and respect,” wrote Jon Macaskill, a retired Navy SEAL commander who said he trained and served with Tumilson.

Hundreds of people from around the country visit the Fossil and Prairie Park Preserve each summer to participate in the Go Crush It 5K Challenge held at the park in Tumilson’s memory.

“JT was a good friend of mine and we served together in the U.S. Navy,” wrote Mike Lindsey of Boca Raton, Florida. “I have been to your town and have witnessed the beauty of this park and the surrounding area.”

Tumilson’s sister, Joy (Tumilson) Bush, had posted a message Tuesday on the “In memory of Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson” Facebook page, telling people that the county was considering putting a radio tower on the park preserve property and urging them to contact the supervisors before their meeting Wednesday afternoon.

She said she is “definitely in support” of a new radio tower to improve emergency communication in the county, but not at the park.

“For those of you that have attended the race or visited Jon’s statue you know what a beautiful, serene, tranquil space the Fossil and Prairie Park is. It’s exactly why we chose this location for his statue and why Jon loved going out there to run when he was home. It was a peaceful escape from the stresses of the world,” she wrote in her post.

In a lengthy email to the supervisors, Bush wrote about her family’s long ties with the brick and tile works that were once associated with the park area, and how the people who visit there are impressed by the park.

“I hope you know I asked for the public’s help not because I was trying to intimidate or flood your email, but because I want the Board of Supervisors to know that this isn’t a place that holds special meaning just to the people of Rockford and Floyd County, but is a special place for all that visit and something that is celebrated by all, regardless of where they live,” she wrote. “I hope I don’t have to tell you how fortunate we are to have something like this in our area.”

Kuhn read Bush’s message to the crowd, and also read the official minutes from two previous board meetings where they had discussed the project, noting that no decision had been made.

Adam Sears, Floyd County Conservation director, said he had misspoke at an earlier meeting where he said part of the park was not in the state preserve. All of the park is in the preserve and would need to go through a lengthy process to receive permission to build on it, including getting permission from state agencies, both houses of the Iowa Legislature and the governor’s office.

Floyd County Naturalist Heidi Reams said she appreciated people’s affection for the Tumilson memorial at the park, but the park itself was a treasure that needed to be protected.

“Let’s not forget that there’s natural resources there that are very sensitive and very rare in Iowa,” Reams said. “We have native prairie at the Fossil Park and there is one-tenth of 1% of that in the state. We have endangered plants, endangered species there.”

“I hope that those emails showed the importance of the Fossil Park and how it’s not just there for Floyd County citizens, that it’s there for everyone to enjoy – all the people from out of state and out of country.”

Kuhn said the messages they had received had touched him, and he saw there was a consensus that the park is not a site that would welcome the tower, and it would be disrespectful to put it there.

“The location won’t be decided tonight,” he said, because making a decision wasn’t on the agenda. “But we can cross this location of the site off the list. I am opposed to it. There are other places to look.”

Ben Chatfield, the Floyd Volunteer Fire Department fire chief who has taken the lead in helping develop the new communications system, said Motorola did a survey three years ago and identified an area within about a half-mile radius from the Fossil and Prairie Park Preserve as the highest part of the county in that area and the best location for a tower in the western part of the county.

The other tower in the new communications system will be the existing radio tower at the Charles City City Hall and police station, although it will be outfitted with new antennas.

Chatfield said Pyramid Network Services, which would provide the tower, recently ran a coverage test and found that the park and some adjoining property were the best locations. Other potential spots in the area were 25 feet lower and would result in a significant reduction in radio coverage.

“We have to stay at that elevation otherwise we’re not doing service to the county spending $5 million on a communications system that wouldn’t work at its best,” Chatfield said. Another option would be to add a third antenna tower, which would add about $1 million to the system cost.

He said the owner of property across the road from the park has said he is willing to sit down with the county and talk about selling a small piece of that land for the tower and access road.

Kuhn said he would contact County Attorney Todd Prichard about the best way to negotiate with the property owner about purchasing the needed property.

In a post Wednesday evening, Tumilson’s sister, Bush, wrote, “I want to share that this issue wasn’t just about Jon and his statue. For me it was more about making sure we protect the land and our natural resources and the town that Jon was so proud of growing up in.

“Those of you that have visited know Jon’s statue isn’t what makes the Fossil and Prairie Park great, it is the grounds that the Conservation Board and Fossil Park staff have worked to develop and preserve that make it the beautiful, serene, and tranquil space we all love and enjoy.”

Floyd County rules out Fossil and Prairie Park Preserve as site for communications tower
Floyd County Fossil and Prairie Park Preserve. Submitted photo

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