Bridgton board votes two-month extension to tower review

‘A LITTLE BIT BAFFLED’ was how George Gula characterized his reaction to the proposed location of AT&T’s cell phone tower almost directly behind his recently-completed retirement home at 204 Hio Ridge Road.   3 ALONE ON HIS SIDE of the courthouse meeting room at Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting was Barry Hobbins, who is representing AT&T and American Tower Company in its plans to build a cell phone tower on Hio Ridge Road.

‘A LITTLE BIT BAFFLED’ was how George Gula characterized his reaction to the proposed location of AT&T’s cell phone tower almost directly behind his recently-completed retirement home at 204 Hio Ridge Road.

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Up until Tuesday, the Bridgton Planning Board’s review of AT&T and American Towers Hio Ridge Road cell phone tower project was proceeding in a routine manner, despite the outcry of neighbors.

But on Tuesday, the board pushed back a bit. They told agent Barry Hobbins they were extending the review process by another two months, thereby pressing the limit of regulations laid out both by the town’s Tower Ordinance and the Federal Communications Commission.

They also told Hobbins he must set up an escrow account with the town to fund a third-party review, to see if another location for the tower could be found. The independent experts will also evaluate whether the project’s plans for landscaping are adequate to minimize the tower’s visual impact on the residential neighborhood.

Hobbins accepted the board’s decision to extend the ordinance’s 90-day review process to 150 days, which would require a decision on the project by Aug. 26. But,. he submitted a letter that, in effect, cautioned the board that to exceed the 150-day limit “constitutes a failure to act” under the 1996 Telecommunications Act and a Federal Communication Commission ruling known as the “Shot Clock Order.”

“I’m going to hold you to 150 days,” Hobbins told the board, with about 14 Hio Ridge Road neighbors in attendance. “If you go beyond that, we could end up in a difficult situation. That’s not a threat, that’s a promise.” He said that throughout the review process, which began in April, AT&T and American Towers has acted with “due diligence” in meeting all of the town’s requirements under its Tower Ordinance, “including the siting (question) that’s obviously being pushed upon us.”

The letter also provided language stating that the 1996 Act “expressly preempts state and local government regulation” of wireless facilities “on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with FCC’s regulations concerning such emissions.”

‘A LITTLE BIT BAFFLED’ was how George Gula characterized his reaction to the proposed location of AT&T’s cell phone tower almost directly behind his recently-completed retirement home at 204 Hio Ridge Road.   3 ALONE ON HIS SIDE of the courthouse meeting room at Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting was Barry Hobbins, who is representing AT&T and American Tower Company in its plans to build a cell phone tower on Hio Ridge Road.

ALONE ON HIS SIDE of the courthouse meeting room at Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting was Barry Hobbins, who is representing AT&T and American Tower Company in its plans to build a cell phone tower on Hio Ridge Road.

Hobbins previously brought in a consultant for American Towers who said existing towers and alternative property sites were considered, but the 214 Hio Ridge Road site was selected as the best location to fill AT&T’s gap in wireless coverage.

Resident Paul Veit continued to challenge that conclusion Tuesday, passing out copies of a map showing the proposed tower location in proximity to an existing tower on Sam Ingalls Road. Veit asked the board to make sure IDK, one of two companies the board selected for the third-party review, evaluates American Towers’ assertion that the Sam Ingalls tower isn’t suitable for meeting AT&T’s stated goal of improving coverage westerly down Route 302.

“We cannot possibly see how Hio Ridge Road would be better” than the Sam Ingalls tower, he said, pointing out details of the topography.

IDK Communications of Littleton, Mass., the company the board chose for the site analysis, has been providing wireless consulting peer review services since 1996, and has provided expert testimony in court cases over tower projects. The company has helped review tower applications for several New Hampshire towns and its president, Ivan Pagacik, designed a new underground wireless communications system for New York City’s police, fire and emergency departments.

The other company chosen by the board is Ransom Consulting Engineers and Scientists of Portland, which would team with Terrence DeWan & Associates, a firm with extensive visual impact experience for siting cell towers and wind turbines. They will study AT&T’s methodology and conduct their own photosimulations to determine visual impact, and suggest ways to mitigate that impact.

Anne Krieg, director of planning, economic and community development, said the reviews would take between one and two months to complete.

 

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