PUTNEY -- AT&T wants to install an 85-foot, temporary mobile communication tower along Route 5 to improve telephone and Internet service in the village and immediate area. The company has signed an agreement with Greg Wilson, owner of Basketville, to lease the land Wilson owns across from the Basketville store on Route 5. The company needs the temporary tower, it says, to improve coverage that was affected by an interstate roaming agreement AT&T lost recently, changes in technology and the transfer of licenses affecting AT&T’s network in the area.
AT&T intends to seek a Certificate of Public Good from the Public Service Board and wrote a letter to the town recently about the project. But even before the company applies for the CPG, some Putney residents want to know more about the proposal
About a dozen people showed up to the Selectboard meeting Wednesday to say they did not want the tower in the village center, even for a short period of time.
Putney Planning Commission Chairman Phillip Bannister called it a "dreadful siting" and said the proposal clearly violates the town’s cell tower zoning ordinance.
"It is a lousy choice of site. It seems like we are being asked to bear the brunt of a financial decision AT&T has to make while they figure it out," Bannister said. "I am sympathetic to AT&T customers who have lost cell phone service, but I am not sympathetic to a large corporation that wants to put a tower in the center of the village."
Under Vermont’s cell tower law, AT&T does not need a local zoning permit to put the tower up. It only needs to get the CPG from the Public Service Board, though the PSB does consider the town’s input when deciding if it should issue the certificate.
The company is looking for a letter of support from the Selectboard and says it will send a representative to talk to the board if required.
"This is part of our ongoing effort to provide the best quality service for our customers in the area and throughout Vermont," said
AT&T Spokesman Will Keyser. "This short term project is proposed now so it will allow us to keep and maintain, and possibly improve service in the area until we can have a more permanent solution in place."
Keyser said the tower on wheels is typically used at large festivals when more robust cell coverage is needed and the technology is also put in place during emergencies to provide cell coverage.
Keyser said it is relatively uncommon to use the tower as a temporary strategy to provide cell service near a municipality.
Putney has a Wireless Telecommunications Facilities Bylaw which, among other things, only allows a cell tower within the village if it uses an existing tower and does not extend more than 10 feet above it and if the new tower is less than 20 feet above the ground and is located no closer than 50 feet from a residence.
The zoning bylaw allows small-scale facilities in all zoning districts.
In the letter to the town the company acknowledges that the proposed facility does not fit into the village district scenarios, but asks that the town consider the temporary tower as a small scale facility, which would allow AT&T to construct the tower within the village.
"Given the temporary nature of the (tower on wheels), the need to quickly restore wireless service to this area, and the (tower on wheels’) relatively small scale, the facility should be allowed in the Village District," the letter states.
Keyser says the temporary nature of the tower should be considered when the Selectboard and Planning Commission talk about allowing it in town.
According to the company the temporary tower will be up for a period of six to 18 months while another location is secured for a permanent tower. A balloon test was done last week to simulate the tower appearance, though final photographic simulations were not available.
The company also says emergency responders will be able to pinpoint locations from where emergency calls are made when the new tower is operational.
The project will not disrupt the local wetlands near the site, according to a report included in the letter AT&T sent to the town.
Stoddard said she was going to invite an AT&T representative to the next regularly scheduled Selectboard meeting. At Wednesday night’s Selectboard meeting Putney resident Beckie Coffey asked the other residents, and the board, to consider the importance of providing adequate cell service.
Coffey is an AT&T customer who was affected by the company’s recent loss of robust cell service in the area.
"I don’t want the board to take the concerns of the people of Putney Mountain lightly," she said. "We have to keep an open mind about some of this."