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Abutter not notified of hearing on 180-foot cell tower, now under construction

August 25, 2010
JEFFERSON — Abutters to a cell tower under construction in Jefferson did not receive proper notice of the project during the permitting process.

Cliff and Felicia Sheehan were not notified by certified mail that the Board of Adjustment (BOA) was holding a public hearing on April 8 to consider whether or not to grant two special exceptions to allow U. S. Cellular to erect a 180-foot-tall lattice-style cell tower on the ridgeline of Bray Hill. Notification of abutters by certified mail is required for such hearings.

One of the special exceptions sought would allow a telecommunications tower to be erected less than 1,500 feet from a number of residences, including theirs. The other would allow a tower to be put up within 3 miles of another 90-foot-tall tower, a wood monopole recently erected by the Northern Community Investment Corp (NCIC).

The Shaheens say they would have opposed granting both these special exceptions.

The tower site is located 334 feet from their property line, and about 400 feet from the rear of their home. The land rises up to the ridgeline, and the Shaheens fear that its top will literally loom over their house, visible over the tree canopy.

Nor were the Shaheens notified that the April 8 hearing was continued until June 24 after the BOA realized that the tower's presence would have a regional impact and notification had not been given to communities within a 20-mile radius.

When the June 24 BOA hearing was held, neither abutters nor any neighboring community representatives were on hand, although selectmen's assistant Linda Cushman believes that all abutters other than the Shaheens were properly notified. One abutter apparently did not choose to pick up the certified letter.

Ms. Cushman said the error likely was made during a difficult time in which BOA secretary Rita Larcomb was falling ill; she died earlier this summer.

The U. S. Cellular tower is now under construction on land owned by Albert Maycut of 87 Albert's Drive who has leased a 100- by 100-foot space to U. S. Cellular on his 30-acre parcel, reportedly for some $915 a month. A fenced compound, 75- by 75-feet, will be created inside this plot, to be served by an underground electric cable.

The plan calls for a small utilitarian service building, designed to house an emergency generator and other equipment that will be placed next to the three-legged open-lattice tower on a square poured cement slab.

The two special exceptions requested by U.S. Cellular were approved by unanimous vote at the June 24 meeting.

Construction began during the week of Aug. 9.

The Shaheens have owned their cozy log cabin since 1992, and they registered to vote in Jefferson about five years ago. They spend a little over six months a year in their house on an 80-acre plot that commands an extraordinary view of the Owl's Head and Mt. Martha along with Big Cherry Pond and the well-forested Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge.

When they bought the place they did not realize the extent of their view, but a logging job opened up a breath-taking panoramic view of the Presidential and Franconia Ranges.

"We enjoy the sense of remoteness and solitude that this place gives us," Ms. Shaheen said while sitting on a sunshine-drenched deck on Thursday afternoon.

The couple, both in their early 70s, has three adult children. Their two sons, both doctors, live in Montana, and their daughter lives in New Jersey, which once was her parents' home.

After checking with town counsel, the best course of action for the town to take is to hold another public hearing, now scheduled at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 2, explained BOA chairman Kim Perry in a Thursday evening telephone call.

This will be the time for the Shaheens to express their opposition to the tower's location, he said.

"We certainly understand that cell phone service is important to people in the North Country, but the siting of this one places it very close to our home," Ms. Shaheen said, noting that for whatever reason she and her husband had not been properly notified of the then-proposed tower.

Because the end of the runway at the Mt. Washington Regional Airport appears to be less than three miles away, Ms. Shaheen is also concerned that the Federal Aviation Administration will require a blinking light atop the tower, further intruding into their space.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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