NEW MELLE — Patricia Barnard and her late husband sold their rustic 60-acre farm at a discount to St. Charles County in 2009 so that it could be used as a park. Now, the county plans to erect a 300-foot communications tower on the site.
The decision doesn't sit well with Barnard, 71, or with a county councilman whose district includes the site.
"Certainly, I'm disappointed," Barnard, whose husband, Robert, died last summer, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We were trying to protect the beauty of the land which we enjoyed."
County officials say the park remains in their long-term plans, though a firm date has not been established. An aide to County Executive Steve Ehlmann said the tower would be situated near maintenance sheds, away from where most park users will be.
"We're going to put it in the least public area in the park so it won't interfere with the park view," spokeswoman Jennifer George said.
But councilman Joe Brazil, a Democrat from nearby Defiance, said that doesn't matter because of the massive height of the tower.
"We're supposed to be taking this ground into the arms of the county to protect it," Brazil said. "Then the county comes along and desecrates it."
Brazil also opposes the county administration's plan for an even bigger tower — 450 feet tall — near Augusta. He said the county should instead consider a series of shorter towers. Officials said that could be more costly and less effective.
The towers are among 35 planned across St. Charles, St. Louis and Jefferson counties as part of a $120 million upgrade aimed at eliminating dead spots in radio coverage for first responders. The upgrades also seek to allow responders from different agencies to talk directly with each other as they respond to emergencies.
"It's for our safety and the public safety," said Chief Rick Massey of the New Melle Fire Protection District. "If we cannot communicate with our dispatchers, that's a big problem for us."
Opposition has also been raised to towers in other communities in the three counties.
For the New Melle site, land documents had no restrictions preventing a tower, George said. But Brazil contended that it would go against the intent of the ordinance enacted by the County Council in 2009 authorizing the land purchase.
The ordinance says the property is to be used "in general for park purposes" and that the Barnard family "has found cause to contribute to an ongoing public legacy for parkland with this generous partial donation."
Barnard said the tower could deter others from donating land for use as a park.
"I don't know how it's all going to turn out," she said. "It would be nice if there's another way to get the job done."