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Tamworth tower violates easement and must be removed

A COMMUNICATION TOWER on a Bunker Hill Road property will have to be removed as it violates a Society for the Protection of NH Forests easement. (Courtesy photo) (click for larger version)
August 11, 2011
TAMWORTH — Despite attempts to negotiate an alternative, a communication tower constructed off Bunker Hill Road in Tamworth will have to be taken down, a move Tamworth Wireless hopes will not interrupt internet access for customers.

Three "ham radio type" towers have been erected in Tamworth one off Page Hill Road, one on the Great Hill Fire Tower and a third on a Bunker Hill property. It's the third one that is at issue as the Society for Protection of NH Forests learned back in February, unbeknownst to Tamworth Wireless, that the tower was constructed on a property that has had a conservation easement on it since 1987.

In a statement released from Society Vice-President of Land Conservation Paul Doscher said, "Unfortunately, this is a clear violation of the conservation easement that Richard Alt put on the land in 1987 to protect its conservation features. As is true for every land trust, we have the perpetual responsibility of upholding every conservation easement we hold; state and federal law require us to enforce this easement's terms and purposes." Once a conservation easement is placed on a property, it continues in perpetuity, meaning no new structures can be erected on the property. "Easement donors depend on land trusts like the Forest Society to uphold their wishes in perpetuity for their land when they donate a conservation easement," Doscher said.

According to Tamworth Wireless Director of Operations Dennis Quinn, that non-profit 501(c)12 was formed with the purpose of bringing internet service to areas of Tamworth and Chocorua that are currently without access to other high-speed internet options. Prior to the tower construction, an agreement was reached between Tamworth Wireless and the property's current owners, Christopher and Edward Alt, to allow the tower to be placed on the property with Tamworth Wireless picking up all construction costs and paying and increase in the property taxes that resulted.

The 94-acre parcel is in current use. This is a special land tax program by which property owners whose parcel of land is 10 acres or more can agree to "keep their unimproved land in its current use" and as a result they receive a deeply discounted tax assessment. The property owner can decide in the future to take part of it out of current use later to construct towers, build a house, or make other improvements. Once construction starts, the local tax assessor determines how much of the property must then be taken out of current use and assessed separately at a higher tax rate and a penalty is also assessed. Quinn said this was done for the Alt property and approximately eight tenths of an acre was determined no longer to be in current use for the area including the tower and its guide wires. Tamworth Wireless agreed to pay the penalty and the increased tax liability so the Alt's would not incur any costs associated with the project.

Unfortunately, said Quinn, the Alt's were unaware of 24-year-old easement that was attached to the property when they gave permission to Tamworth Wireless to use their land.

A conservation easement is much more restrictive than current use. In this type of easement, a property owner wishing to protect their property forever from development can partner with an organization such as the Society and grant them a deeded easement. That organization then becomes the steward of the property.

Quinn said the communication tower on the Alt property is the key tower in the three-tower system, as it sits on the highest point in that area of town. The system has been up and running for about eight months and currently has 60 customers, with more being added regularly. Back in August 2010, Tamworth Foundation agreed to contribute $100,000 to the project.

Tamworth Wireless has been given 30 days to respond to the Society with their plan to remove the tower and a timeline for the tower. Quinn said the hope is to have a smooth transition to a new system, one that its customers will not notice. He said it is likely that two towers will have to be constructed to replace the effectiveness of the Alt property tower and Tamworth Wireless is currently in negotiations with two property owners.

Quinn said a thorough title search will be done on any potential new communication tower sites to ensure there are no easements or other restrictions on those properties.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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