Telcos on Tanks – Ulladulla water tower story

Posted by: Chris Edwards on 15/08/2017
Ulladulla Tower in 2017
By Chris Edwards, AUS-SPEC Engineers, NATSPEC

In 1995 I was Manager of Water Supply at Shoalhaven City Council. I received a notice from Vodaphone under the Telecommunication Act that they wished to hang their mobile phone infrastructure on our Ulladulla water tower.

Instead of saying no you cannot, I read the Telecommuniction Act and noticed the only opportunity to take control was under environmental clauses in the Act.

I asked them to show me consultation that they had with other telecommunication users that might also want to use that site. It was deemed inappropriate to alienate that one highspot in favour of the first to claim it. 

The end result was a Council owned 45 metre high steel tower and a quite extensive brick building air conditioned and partitioned for many other users. It was constructed in a corner of the water tower land. The top 8 metres was reserved for Vodaphone and Optus mobile, below that Council that with data transfer discs for Nowra to Ulladulla live data, antennae for bush fire, ambulance, police, coast watch, Council radio, Ulladulla office, library online communications live and a number of others.

Council waived the offered $5000 annual rental in favour of free use as a 20 year BOOT project. All the users had free use of the tower and the air conditioned partitions. Vodaphone and Optus paid for the construction Council provided an unused portion of water tower land and gained a very good telemetry site for water and sewer controls.

I understand that this 1995 example formed the policy template for all water tower cooperation

Last year I returned to view the site and I was astounded at the extent of the use of the tower, and thankful that no electricals were placed on the water tower to cause electrolysis problems.

Fast forward 22 years and Shoalhaven Water manages 26  telecommunications sites receiving income of over $1M per annum and increasing. 

The managing Coordinator Communications Sites for Shoalhaven Water is a former telecommunications carrier communications / electrical engineer.

Shoalhaven Water will soon be approving and publishing a policy document for rental pricing and usage management of all telecommunication towers which could be helpful to other Councils.

At present the cost per annum to rent a site on one of the towers ranges from $1400 for not for profit groups to $60,000 for a Carrier or Broadcaster with a lot of heavy equipment on the tower.  These fees are available for viewing in the Fees and Charges section of the website.

Recently Council replaced their 30 metre Vincentia communications tower with a 55m tower at a cost of $400,000 which is expected to have a 5 year break even pay back which is a reasonable investment.

Conclusions: Councils at present are not getting a good deal from telecommunications on their water tower sites unless they have access to good advice from people with an understanding of the telecommunications industry.

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