Thursday March 7, 2013

NEWFANE -- AT&T has received state approval to build a controversial cellular tower in South Newfane.

The Vermont Public Service Board ruled this week that the 139-foot tower, planned for 66 Oak Hill Road, "will promote the general good of the state."

AT&T representatives have said the tower will provide much-needed service in the Dover Road corridor.

But there has been consistent opposition to the plan from some South Newfane residents who argue that the structure will stand too close to a cluster of homes.

That includes Jay Urato, a resident who said he was "disappointed" in the state’s decision but had come to believe it was inevitable.

"I thought we had a chance (to change the project) for a while," Urato said. "The more we dug into it, the less optimistic I was getting."

Urato and a number of other residents had suggested alternate tower sites in the area, and Newfane Selectboard had asked that the Public Service Board consider whether the tower would be better located elsewhere.

But the state did not order such a review. And all alternate sites have been rejected by AT&T, with the company saying none of them would provide as much coverage as an Oak Hill Road tower.

Along with worries about declining property values, there also have been aesthetic concerns expressed by some tower opponents.

In January, however, a Montpelier-based landscape architect -- who had been retained by the state as an independent consultant -- wrote that the tower "would not result in undue adverse visual impacts to the scenic and natural beauty of the area.


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The consultant endorsed one change that AT&T already had made to its tower plan: The structure will be camouflaged with artificial pine branches.

Newfane has an ordinance regulating communication towers. And from the start, AT&T acknowledged that its proposed tower would violate height and setback requirements in that law.

But the company bypassed the local ordinance and applied directly to the state Public Service Board.

The board’s order, dated March 4, includes three conditions:

-- Operation and maintenance of the tower "shall be in accordance with the plans and evidence submitted in this proceeding. Any material or substantial change in the project is prohibited without prior board approval."

-- The tower project must comply with "applicable existing and future statutory requirements and board rules and orders."

-- The certificate of public good can’t be transferred without board approval.

Those are small comfort for Urato, who said his home will be located 200 to 300 yards from the tower.

Urato thanked friends and neighbors for their support, and he lauded Newfane Selectboard and state Sen. Peter Galbraith for responding to residents’ concerns.

But he also believes the state government’s push to rapidly expand cellular and broadband service has come at a steep price.

"I feel like we were sold out by our politicians," Urato said. "The governor put this on the fast track, and that’s where we’re at."

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