HOWARD WEISS-TISMAN , Brattleboro Reformer
PUTNEY -- AT&T might be having trouble providing its customers in Putney with a strong cell phone signal, but the crowd that attended a public information meeting Thursday about a proposed cell tower on Shag Bark Hill sent the company a message that was loud and clear.
AT&T wants to erect a 130-foot cell tower on land owned by Michael Mecheski at 20 Shag Bark Hill.
Mecheski was not at Thursday night’s meeting, which lasted more than two hours.
About 50 people attended the information session, which was held at the Putney Fire Station, and not a single person supported the plan.
Neighbors who will be able to see the tower from their land and possibly hear the generator that is scheduled to run once a week do not want the tower, and Putney residents who do not live near the site and who showed up to the meeting do not want it either.
"I’m not affected by this at all, and I think there’s a number of us here that don’t want to see it happen to other Putney residents," said Pat Shields. "It’s not just abutters or neighbors. It’s what our town is."
The Selectboard and the Planning Commission held the public information meeting Thursday to listen to concerns and share information about the plan.
The tower, which is called a mono pine and is built to look like a tree, is needed to extend and improve wireless and cell service around Putney and along Interstate 91, said Elizabeth Kohler, an attorney from Downs Rachlin Martin who was representing AT&T at the meeting.
Kohler said AT&T was committed to doing what it could to minimize the aesthetic impact of the tower.
"The more customers demand the service, the more network we need to build to carry those calls," Kohler said. "We can’t make them invisible, but we can try to design them to really try to mitigate the aesthetics while also meeting the technical requirements."
Angela Battisto, who has property that abuts the proposed site, said it was going to be impossible to not affect the neighbors who live near such a large project.
"I live there. I walk my dog there," Battisto said. "There’s nothing aesthetic about what you guys are proposing. As much as I use a cell phone, and I really think we should have cell service, that is a small, beautiful area. It’s not big enough for what you’re going to do. And it’s not right."
Kohler repeatedly tried to make her presentation but with almost every map, drawing, site plan and photo she showed, she was peppered with questions and concerns about the project.
Along with the 130-foot-high tower, AT&T will need to extend the road about 1,000 feet and build a 50-foot-by-50-foot compound for equipment.
Kohler answered questions about the noise the generator will make, about how visible the tower will be, and about the possibility of other companies co-locating on the tower, which will lead to more noise and traffic.
AT&T has not submitted its application with the Public Service Board yet.
As part of that application process the company is required to notify the town, and abutters to the property, about its intention to submit the petition, providing a 45-day comment period which ends Feb. 3.
The information session was called to provide information and gather input during that 45-day period.
Kohler said AT&T might submit the petition Feb. 4, but it can take as long as it wants while it works with the town and neighbors to mitigate some of the concerns that were raised.
But Kohler said the application process for the proposed tower on Shag Bark Hill is further complicated by the fact that the company has to replace the temporary tower it erected across the street from Basketville.
AT&T was given temporary approval to have the tower downtown, but the company is supposed to remove the temporary tower 180 days after it was put up, or some time in May.
Kohler said she was going to take the information she received at the meeting and talk with AT&T officials about the concerns.
She said during the hearing for the temporary tower that AT&T was able to make adjustments.
"AT&T has demonstrated a very sincere effort to work with Putney," Kohler said. "I do think that we’ve demonstrated good faith. We’re here. We’re hearing the concerns."
The Selectboard and the Planning Commission are going to talk about the proposed cell tower at the next Selectboard meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 22.
Kohler said she might have responses by then to some of the concerns that were raised during Thursday night’s meeting.