A ham radio operator whose seven towers have brought complaints from residents said he will pursue legal action if Storey County officials deny him the right to enjoy his hobby.
Tom Taormina, 62, a business process improvement consultant, has been a ham radio operator for 50 years, and said he has retained an attorney.
He said he has had towers everywhere he's lived, and that federal law protects his right to operate.
"(Nevada Revised Statute) refers to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) pre-eminence," he said. "This is a licensed amateur radio operation. NRS said local regulations have to accommodate our hobby."
Storey County Building Official Dean Haymore issued a stop-work order to Taormina, a Virginia City Highlands resident, last week after assistant district attorney Laura Grant said Storey County ordinances required building permits for the towers and variances from the planning commission for towers more than 45 feet high.
Haymore said the existence of the towers, some of which have been up since 1997, were violations of those ordinances.
He said Taormina, who had removed one tower found to be encroaching on a neighbor's property and was about to move the foundation for another, agreed to stop work.
Haymore said he, Sheriff Jim Miller and County Manager Pat Whitten have all received many complaints from residents.
"We can't keep up with the phone calls that come in," he said.
Haymore said for any tower over 45 feet, the county requires structural engineering.
"He has to get building permits for the towers because they are defined as structures," he said. "Anything being constructed, moved or altered needs a building permit."
Taormina said surveys were done incorrectly on the 10-acre property he owns on Panamint Road, and recently he discovered two towers were encroaching on neighboring property. He was in the process of hiring a crane to remove the towers when Haymore issued his order.
"We took down the one tower and restored the desert to natural state, and that encroachment is completely gone," he said.
Taormina said the stop-work order prevents him from moving the second tower the needed 40 feet.
He said the crane operator probably attracted the notice of neighbors who then complained.
"Whoever they are, none of them have identified themselves to me, called me or talked to me," he said.
In addition, he said, representatives of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration came on the property to inspect the cranes.
"We were in complete compliance," he said. "At this point they dropped the gauntlet, and this is costing me huge amounts of money. Now they will be standing accountable for their uninformed actions, if they bothered to read the law. It's my opinion that they are riled up about this because the (regulations) of the highlands do not cover towers at all."
Haymore confirmed he had a letter from the Virginia City Highlands 10-acre property association that they had no jurisdiction on towers.
Grant said that amateur radio operators are protected by federal law, and although states and counties can enact regulations, they have to make reasonable accommodation for amateur radio, with "reasonable" not being defined.
"The issue at the moment is failure to have a building permit," she said.
Grant said that in researching the issue, she found cases around the country that allowed for building permit requirements, but could not find previous cases in Nevada.
"Because it is a federal issue, most of those appear in federal court," she said.
Taormina is on the Highlands' emergency planning committee and he and other ham operators provided backup communication during the Nevada Vigilant Guard exercises June 14.
"When all else fails, hams can communicate with other hams," he said.
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at email@example.com or call 881-7351.