Thursday December 6, 2012

NEWFANE -- Residents concerned about the visual impact of a proposed communications tower will get a chance to see for themselves on Friday.

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., administrators for the AT&T project expect to raise a large balloon 130 feet over the possible tower site in South Newfane.

But David Vivian, a real estate consultant for AT&T, warned that the test will have to be postponed if weather conditions are anything other than ideal.

"It's all about the wind," Vivian said.

Newfane has little cell-phone coverage, but AT&T's proposal has been controversial mainly due to its location. The company has agreed to consider other sites, but representatives also have warned of strict construction and location criteria.

Residents have been collecting suggestions for alternate tower sites via e-mail at newfanetower@yahoo.com.

In the meantime, AT&T apparently is pushing ahead with a plan to apply to the state Public Service Board for a certificate of public good to erect the 130-foot tower at 66 Oak Hill Road.

Responding to complaints that few residents had known about an initial balloon test, AT&T scheduled Friday's test. The plan is to fly a balloon that's three to four feet in diameter and brightly colored -- possibly red -- to determine who will be able to see a tower at that site.

"We go to the tower site and float the balloon at the proposed site, and then we drive around," Vivian said.

Also in response to citizen complaints, Vivian said a consultant will gauge the tower's visibility from the town forest.

That was a concern raised by Newfane Conservation Commission Chairman Bruce Hesselbach, who wonders whether the tower will compromise the view from a lookout on the town trail.

Hesselbach plans to visit the site during Friday's balloon test.

"We'll go up there and we'll take a look," he said. "The town only has one lookout, and you'd think they'd want to preserve it."

Friday's test depends on generally clear conditions -- no chance of fog or mist and less than a 25-percent chance of precipitation -- as well as wind speeds of less than 10 mph while the balloon flies.

"The wind would blow it sideways, and (then) it's of no benefit," Vivian said.

In case of postponement, AT&T said the test would be conducted from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday.

Updated test information, including any notification of rescheduling, is available at www.cadsims.com/newfane.

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