July 02, 2014LINCOLN— The planning board spent more than an hour last week asking questions and hearing from residents on the proposal for a new cell tower at Loon Mountain. Some were curious about the latest location for the tower, and even accused chairman Pat Romprey of inappropriate interaction with Verizon Wireless representatives. As the discussion deteriorated, Romprey closed the public hearing.
The board will again address the topic on July 23. In the interim, further study will be conducted on the viability of alternative sites for the tower. Abutters to the current location near Governor's Lane continue to express concerns about how the tower would impact their views and quality of life.
The hearing began with testimony from Ivan Pagacik of IDK Communications. He performed a review of Verizon's cell tower application materials. As mentioned in last week's Courier, the IDK report corroborated Verizon's central justification for the tower, a lack of consistent phone and data service on Loon Mountain and nearby parts of Route 112.
However, Pagacik's report also raised the possibility of a site on the Pollard Brook property northwest of Loon. With a 100 foot tall tower, better coverage at Loon Mountain is possible from Pollard Brook compared to Verizon's proposed location, although more gaps along Route 112 would exist.
Pagacik said a tower 190 feet tall at Pollard Brook eliminates much of the gap along Route 112, but he is not certain of the tower's ability to provide room for the equipment Verizon prefers. Nonetheless, selectmen's representative Tamra Ham and board member Paula Strickon both noted the improved coverage possible if the Governor's Lane site is taken off the table.
Speaking for Verizon, Chip Fredette downplayed the Pollard Brook location. "This isn't just about coverage," he said. The existing tower simply lacks the capacity to meet the phone and data demands on Loon Mountain, Fredette continued.
Another Verizon representative, Keith Vellante, echoed Fredette's point. Because of infrastructure limitations, the Pollard Brook site could not meet demands caused by the "explosive growth in data usage" now occurring, he suggested. Pagacik did acknowledge that Verizon antennas at Pollard Brook would be lower than the tower's height because of space limitations.
Several abutters then asked why the planning board did not require a more thorough study of alternative sites. Doug Smith, president of the Westwood Homeowners Association, noted abutter petitions asked the town to review viability of other locations.
Peter Eisenhauer added that 11 alternative sites were listed in Verizon's application materials. "We asked the board to evaluate all of the proposed sites," he said. "We would like the industry expert to look at that," Smith declared.
The board did vote for further study. However, Ham believed additional review might be meaningless. "If Verizon doesn't want to put a tower there, we can't force them to," she said.
Another concern abutters mentioned was how the new tower site, the third Verizon has proposed on Loon Mountain, was selected. On the morning of May's balloon test, an onsite group that included Romprey discussed the third location, slightly higher up the mountain.
Eisenhauer was especially vocal about the change. He thought the two balloons flying that day represented the original locations, not a third site. "I was never told there was a site three," Eisenhauer said. When Fredette asked how the new location looked during the balloon test, Eisenhauer replied, "Awful."
Paul Beaudin wondered about Romprey's ability to be impartial because of the chairman's involvement in the discussions leading to selection of a third site. Some abutters repeated Beaudin's concern.
Romprey vigorously defended his actions, saying he in no way dictated the new proposed location for the tower. Of the tower's move up the hill, Romprey said, "I didn't make a suggestion." The third site is about 30 feet higher in elevation than the two previous proposals.
Regarding the elimination of the previous tower sites, Romprey declared, "It was Loon and Verizon who took those off the table, not this board."
After some additional comments from the public, Romprey concluded, "We're done. I'm sick of being a punching bag tonight." Board members then selected July 23 as the next date for the continued hearing.