Tuesday November 27, 2012

NEWFANE -- With residents raising concerns about a proposed cellular tower's location, AT&T representatives have agreed to consider other sites in Newfane.

That has led two South Newfane residents to solicit information about potential tower sites through Facebook and a new e-mail address, newfanetower@yahoo.com.

But an AT&T representative also is warning that there are many factors -- including proximity of about a half-mile to the currently proposed location -- that the company must consider before accepting another property.

"We will consider additional, valid alternatives," AT&T spokesman Will Keyser said. "But those alternatives have to meet basic criteria for the tower to provide the level of service necessary."

At issue is an AT&T plan to build a 130-foot tower at 66 Oak Hill Road in South Newfane. Administrators have said the tower would dramatically improve the town's spotty cell coverage and also could host equipment from two other cell-service carriers.

The company plans to apply to the state Public Service Board for a certificate of public good to erect the tower. AT&T also has asked for a favorable recommendation from the town despite the fact that the structure would exceed height and setback limits in a local ordinance regulating telecommunication facilities.

The proposal drew opposition when AT&T representatives spoke at a Nov.


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15 Selectboard meeting. Some questioned the tower's safety and effect on property values given its proximity to homes, while others wondered about aesthetic impacts.

An AT&T attorney characterized the tower as safe and beneficial to town residents with "relatively low visual impact."

But state Sen. Peter Galbraith, a Windham County Democrat, last week contacted an AT&T representative in Montpelier and reported that "they agree to consider alternate sites and will write the Selectboard saying so."

Galbraith acknowledged that there are limits on those alternative sites. But he also praised AT&T for its willingness to work with residents.

"They've said they're going to be flexible, and hopefully they will be," Galbraith said.

He recalled that after Newfane was devastated by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, AT&T quickly set up a mobile telecommunications site in the town.

"We're appreciative of AT&T for its incredibly prompt response," Galbraith said. "They had the tower there in 48 hours. It was amazing."

Keyser said AT&T, in re-examining the proposed site for a new tower, must weigh factors including a nearby power source, an access road, a willing property owner and compliance with environmental regulations.

Also, in order to serve the population AT&T has targeted, the alternative site must be in the "general vicinity" of 66 Oak Hill Road -- generally, about a half-mile from that address, Keyser said.

He also confirmed that the company will conduct another "balloon test" to gauge the proposed tower's visibility. Many have complained that they received little or no notice before the first test.

No date has been set for a second test.

"It's definitely going to occur. It's a little tricky this time of year with weather, but we are going to move forward," Keyser said. "We'll make sure that everybody who needs to know will be notified."

Jay and Jake Urato of South Newfane are gathering tower-site suggestions so they can forward them to AT&T. Information can be submitted via the neighborhood's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/NewfaneBulletin or to the newfanetower@yahoo.com address.

Jake Urato said lease money could be an incentive for property owners to host a tower. But she also urged those responding to provide as many specifics as possible to satisfy AT&T's criteria.

"We've been talking with people and working on this pretty much constantly," she said. "We know there's a time crunch."

The issue will be on the agenda for the Selectboard's next meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 6, Chairman Jon Mack said.

The board has not yet taken a position on the tower. But Mack said officials have contacted the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to inquire about "what our options are."

"The hope is that we can reach an agreement that will get us cell coverage in a way that satisfies all parties," Mack said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.