Long cell tower fight over; resident pulls appeal

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer
Hio Ridge Road resident Paul Veit has finally thrown in the towel in his longstanding battle against a cell tower project near his home by AT&T and American Towers.
But some are questioning his timing.
“It’s unfortunate that the taxpayers of Bridgton had to foot the bill, for printing costs and legal fees for, quite frankly, an appeal that didn’t have any merit,” said AT&T project consultant Barry Hobbins in a Friday telephone interview.
Veit was unavailable for comment. His one-sentence letter of withdrawal was delivered Thursday, the same day that the Bridgton Board of Appeals was set to meet for a second time on Veit’s appeal of the Oct. 7 final project approval by the Bridgton Planning Board.
When the Appeals Board met briefly that evening to accept Veit’s withdrawal, its members had spent many hours reviewing the written and videotaped record of the planning board’s six-month review of the project, which began in April. Appeals Board Chairman John Schuettinger said it took him 13 hours alone to watch the videotapes, and three days to finish reading all of the documentation.
Nevertheless, faced with spending more hours deliberating and acting on the appeal, one board member was heard to say, “It’s a gift” that the appeal was withdrawn.
After their initial meeting on Veit’s appeal on Oct. 23, appeals board members were given a voluminous stack of meeting minutes, videotapes and accompanying studies and documentation that represented the entire record of testimony during the planning board’s review process. Members were asked to review the record to determine whether there was any merit in Veit’s contention that the planning board failed to adequately address several purpose statements under the town’s Tower Ordinance, particularly as to whether other “reasonable” solutions were available to address AT&T’s gap in signal coverage in West Bridgton.
Veit originally had added a conflict of interest charge as part of his appeal, but withdrew that portion of the appeal at the Oct. 23 meeting.
Administrative Assistant to the Appeals Board Georgiann Fleck said it cost over $2,000 to replace the town office printer after it broke while making copies of all the documents for appeals board members.
Hobbins said, “I have nothing but praise” for Fleck, as well as members of both boards and several department heads for the professional manner in which the concerns of Veit and other cell tower opponents were handled.
“They’ve all had great patience in dealing with this case,” Hobbins said. “They tried to bend over backward to be fair to the neighbors.”
Hobbins said the planning board’s review was “very thorough, very fair and impartial,” and they showed as much by ordering third-party reviews of AT&T’s application. Those reviews validated the findings of AT&T engineers and site analysts that only a new cell tower could give AT&T the signal coverage it needed, Hobbins pointed out.
Hobbins has served as consultant on over 200 cell tower site applications, and has run into neighborhood opposition before, he said. Most of the time the persons addressing concerns keep things professional, but that wasn’t always the case with the Hio Ridge Road project.
“”This is the first time that anyone has questioned my integrity in a manner that is possibly actionable,” he said, referring to a planning board meeting at which Veit implied Hobbins had deliberately altered a coverage map. Hobbins also said it was unfortunate that Veit chose to raise a conflict of interest question regarding Planning Board member Mike Figoli.
“The good news is that the project has been properly vetted, and there will be better coverage” when the cell tower goes up. Construction is expected to get underway next spring, said Hobbins.
“If it hadn’t gone on this long, it would have been built by now,” he said. “But that’s all part of the process.” He said that because Veit did not go forward with his appeal, “He’s foreclosed from taking this any further” in the state courts.
“My advice out of all this is, if an individual wants to fight something, fine,” said Hobbins. “But if everything is invalidated by independent sources, there is a time to retreat.”

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