MOUNT PLEASANT — The 140-foot-high water tank on Simmons Street in the Old Village hasn't held any water since 1991 and, facing a $1 million repair bill, Mount Pleasant Waterworks would like to demolish it.
That all sounds very straightforward and practical, but then there's the issue of cellphone service.
The utility hopes to replace the water tank with a 170-foot-tall cellphone "monopole" tower, which would be about 4 feet in diameter. Mount Pleasant Waterworks says the plan would be cost-effective, improve cellphone service and also support the utility's plan to wirelessly monitor water meters.
The old water tank's purpose for more than two decades has been to host cellular equipment for AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint, which generates around $100,000 in yearly rent to the water and sewer utility. To keep that money flowing, Mount Pleasant Waterworks needs to either spend about $1 million to maintain the water tank or demolish it and erect a cell tower, which would cost about half a million dollars.
“It is part of history, but infrastructure doesn’t last forever," said Clay Duffie, General Manager of MPW. “If somebody else wants to pay for the maintenance of the tank, we’re happy to leave it there."
The water tank was built in 1934 when what is now South Carolina's fourth-largest city was a town with about 1,500 residents.
"It's been here all my life," said Vincent Potter, who was born in the 1950s and now lives on Morrison Street, directly across from the Mount Pleasant Waterworks property and the water tank.
"It's useful for giving people directions," he said. But Potter said he has no opinion about the tank potentially being torn down and replaced a cell tower.
On Facebook there's a "Save The Water Tower" page with one post about the issue, which 44 people had indicated they "liked" as of Thursday afternoon. The contact information on the page directs people to former town Mayor Cheryll Woods-Flowers, who could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Old Village is where the original town was located and portions — though not the area where the water tank is located — are a historic district. That part of town is home to many of the residents who objected to buildings taller than 35 feet being built along Coleman Boulevard, which may be why MPW is approaching the plan for a 170-foot cell tower carefully.
The utility sent emails to its customers, held a public meeting and will be taking comments until noon Tuesday when the utility's commissioners next meet. Comments can be emailed to: email@example.com.
“We just wanted to be sure we didn’t go out and demolish the tank and establish a monopole and have people go ‘Hey, what’s this?’” Duffie said. “There’s been some sense that (the water tank) is a historical marker.”
Public reaction is important because it's not just up to the utility's commissioners. The cell tower plan depends upon the town agreeing to rezone the utility's property in the residential Old Village to "light industrial."
The zoning request has already been filed and will be on the Planning Commission's Wednesday agenda, according to Jeff Ulma, director of Mount Pleasant's Planning and Development Department.
"After that, a site plan for the new tower would have to submitted to us for review," he said.