Monday November 5, 2012

NEWFANE -- Cell phones aren’t of much use in Newfane.

A new proposal could change that dramatically for customers of AT&T, which wants to build a 130-foot tower on Oak Hill Road. The tower also could host equipment from at least two other cell carriers at some point.

But Selectboard members already are hearing concerns, and they’re seeking more facts before deciding to support or oppose the project.

"We will definitely want public input on it," said Jon Mack, Selectboard chairman.

Board members on Thursday received the proposal from AT&T, which is notifying the town of its pending application to the Vermont Public Service Board for permission to build the tower in South Newfane.

The company also needs Selectboard approval because the town has a 2007 ordinance regulating telecommunication facilities. In a letter to Newfane, AT&T says its proposal "would generally meet the substantive criteria" of that ordinance.

For instance, the tower does not require lights under Federal Aviation Administration regulations and will not make "undue" noise, the company’s letter says. Also, AT&T contends its equipment "cannot reasonably be co-located on an existing tower."

But the company acknowledges that the tower exceeds the town’s height limitations and does not meet its setback requirements.

In terms of height, Newfane regulations say towers "will not project more than 20 feet above the average elevation of anticipated mature tree height.


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" In the area of the proposed tower, the tree line is just 60 feet high -- less than half the height of AT&T’s planned tower.

However, AT&T notes that "additional height is permissible under the ordinance where necessary to provide adequate coverage or to allow for co-location of facilities."

What might be less negotiable is the town’s setback requirement. AT&T wants to place the tower 52 feet from the nearest property line, while Newfane regulations would require a setback of nearly 200 feet based on the tower’s height.

The company, though, writes that "the tower will be designed to virtually eliminate the risk of collapse" and will "fold into itself, not topple, in the unlikely event of a collapse."

A potential collapse was just one concern raised by Bruce Hesselbach, a member of Newfane Conservation Commission.

"I think it’s too near other houses," Hesselbach told the Selectboard, adding that "it does seem to me that it might be detrimental to the neighbors."

Hesselbach also worried that the tower would impede the view of those who hiked the town forest trail to reach a lookout.

"It seems to me that there’s a very good likelihood that the tower would be visible," he said.

Selectboard members also had questions but did not immediately take a position on the proposed tower. Mack said the town ordinance requires that the board hold a public meeting on the matter.

"Probably, this will be a repeated topic over the next few weeks," Mack said, adding that the board was "blindsided" by AT&T’s letter.

"We have been begging for cell-phone coverage," he said. "We had gotten no response from AT&T."

Spotty or nonexistent cellular service is a chronic problem in the West River Valley, a fact that Newfane board members will have to weigh against possible detriments.

"There are many reasons why we need the tower," Mack said.

In its letter, AT&T said it is trying to enhance coverage throughout Vermont.

"Once operational, the (Newfane) facility will result in significant improvements to AT&T’s existing network coverage," the letter said. "The proposed facility will benefit residential and business customers living, working and commuting to and from Newfane as well as tourists who visit the area."

The company also said better cell coverage is necessary to enable enhanced 911 service "so that emergency responders can pinpoint the location within the town from which a wireless call or message is placed."

AT&T is asking for the town’s decision by Dec. 14 and is offering to send a representative to Newfane to discuss the plan.

"We look forward to working with the community and the town through the process," AT&T spokesman Will Keyser said. "We’re hopeful that we can address any concerns that might exist. This is an area we’d very much like to provide wireless service to. There certainly is a demand."

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