January 15

Rome puts off cell tower decision

Global Tower Partners wants to put the tower on a ridge overlooking Great Pond, the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance is opposed, and the town planning board is caught in the middle.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

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Phillips said he is opposed to the proposal because it would spoil the views for area hikers and boaters, not because the alliance tells him how to think.

“I don’t agree with a lot of the things they (the alliance leaders) are doing,” he said. “I’m still my own person.”

Phillips said that, in one case, the cell tower will literally cast a shadow across a trail that runs on abutting property up the Mountain.

In December, the Planning Board considered the issue of bias and, in a poll of board members, indicated that it did not see a conflict of interest that would prevent those members from acting on the issue.

Phillips said Rome only has about 800 registered voters, 136 of whom are conservation alliance members and so some overlap should be expected, particularly when you’re looking at the smaller pool of people who are interested in civic matters.

The conservation alliance “is pretty much the only game in town when it comes to environmental and conservation issues,” he said.

Tech talk

The public comment section of the debate is over, Greenan said, and now the planning board members are gearing up to make a final decision on Monday, Feb. 10. The board will take separate votes on whether the application meets each of several requirements in the ordinance, and then will take a final vote approving or rejecting the application.

While the issue before the planning board is whether the tower application meets the town’s cellphone tower ordinance it’s not as clearcut as it sounds, Greenan said.

“You’ve got language in the ordinance that says, ‘adequate coverage.’ How do you define adequate coverage?” he asked. Another section, he said, requires that the tower be least detrimental to the views. “How do you define that, least detrimental?” he said.

Greenan and Phillips both said Planning Board members have also had a difficult time dealing with the issue because it is mired in unfamiliar technical details.

The town is already home to one cell tower, a 300-foot-tall construct on Hampshire Hill, farther up Route 27. Whether that tower already provides enough coverage is hotly debated, and the debate is couched in terms like wattage, downtilt, antenna degrees, frequency, serviceless pockets and propagation maps.

“None of us are engineers and we don’t really understand all this stuff,” Phillips said. “They keep us hobbled by all this technical stuff.”

The upshot is that the tower company says a second tower is needed to improve service, while a consultant hired by the town, Richard Comi of the Center for Municipal Solutions in New York, says the second tower is not needed, according to Greenan.

Parsing through their arguments and deciding how to interpret the subjective phrases in the ordinance will help to guide the board’s decision.

“There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors here to confuse the layperson, which we are,” Greenan said. “It’s difficult.”

Phillips said he expected legal action from the tower company if the application is refused.

“They obviously are not going to be satisfied with anything but approval,” he said. “And they apparently have all the money in the world and can wear us down.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287 mhhetling@centralmaine.com Twitter: @hh_matt
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