Newfane backs second AT&T cellular tower


MIKE FAHER , Brattleboro Reformer

NEWFANE -- In AT&T’s second foray into Newfane, the company received a much more friendly reception.

With little debate, and following a lengthy presentation by an attorney representing the telecommunications company, Newfane Selectboard on Thursday night supported a proposal to build a new cellular tower at 85 Browns Road.

The 140-foot tower is designed to dramatically improve cell service in the Route 30 corridor. And Selectboard Chairman Jon Mack said he has heard no complaints about the plan from the public.

"As it turns out, it’s a much less controversial spot," Mack said.

That was a reference to a debate that began in 2012 and continued into 2013 as AT&T proposed a 139-foot tower off Oak Hill Road in South Newfane.

There was strong opposition from nearby residents, and town officials expressed concern that the state’s permitting process overrode local concerns and ordinances.

AT&T said no other site would serve the Dover Road corridor as well, and the state Public Service Board ultimately approved the project. The South Newfane tower is not yet operational, said Will Dodge, a Burlington attorney who attended Thursday’s meeting on behalf of AT&T.

During the search for potential alternative sites for the South Newfane tower, AT&T found the Browns Road property, Dodge said.

The Vermont Telecommunications Authority had held a lease option for a tower at that site, but no project had moved forward. In September, AT&T acquired that option, intending to build a second Newfane tower.

It is part of the company’s push to develop a stronger cellular network in this part of the state, Dodge said.

"Between 2009 and 2011, (AT&T) put about $50 million into Vermont for network infrastructure improvements, without building many new sites," he said.

"Since 2011, there’s been a big focus on building new sites in southern Vermont," Dodge said. "That includes Jamaica, Dover, Dorset, Westminster, Plymouth, Mt. Holly, Weston, Rockingham, Winhall and recently Newfane as well as Putney."

On Browns Road -- a site northwest of Dutton Farm Stand -- AT&T is proposing a 140-foot-tall monopole tower with an access road and an 11-foot by 20-foot equipment shelter.

There would be 12 AT&T antennas on the tower, with room for more from other companies.

"It won’t be long before Verizon, T-Mobile, VTel and others are going to want to use this site," Dodge said.

He ran through several other aspects of the tower’s design and impacts, including:

* Lighting: The top of the tower is not required to be lit, Dodge said. The only illumination at the facility will be a motion light on an equipment shelter.

* Visibility: Dodge said a December balloon test showed that the monopole would be visible "fairly close to where the tower is, on Route 30. That’s where you’re going to see it most."

* The test showed limited visibility from other sites including Newfane Congregational Church, Windham County Sheriff’s office and Cemetery Hill Road.

And Dodge said the tower will be even less visible when blended with summer foliage.

* Structural integrity: The tower is designed to withstand a 90 mph wind with no ice and a 40 mph gust with three-quarters of an inch of ice on the structure, Dodge said.

AT&T has built towers with a "break point," which allows the structure to fall in a certain, predetermined manner in the worst-case scenario. But Dodge said that has not been deemed necessary on Browns Road, noting that there are no structures within 140 feet -- the full height of the tower.

"We think, ultimately, it’s a good project," Dodge said.

That is in spite of the fact that this proposed tower, like the one in South Newfane, violates setback and height requirements in the town’s telecommunications-facility ordinance.

Dodge said the additional height is necessary to provide adequate cell coverage and to allow for co-location of other cellular and broadband providers.

And he said the tower could be moved to accommodate the town’s setback requirements, but that would require more tree clearing.

The three Selectboard members present -- Mack, Gloria Cristelli and Chris Druke -- voted to support AT&T’s plans on Browns Road.

The ultimate permitting decision will be up to the state Public Service Board. Dodge said AT&T expects to file an application with the board next month, with a public comment period to follow.

If successful in obtaining a certificate of public good, AT&T has committed to having a tower operational on Browns Road no later than March 31, 2015. But Dodge said construction could happen this year.

"Hopefully, it would be up and running sooner rather than later," he said.


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