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The CT Siting Council is the ultimate decision maker on cell tower placement and design, but towns still have a say. More....

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Cell phone users want clear, reliable reception wherever they go. The July 27th edition of the Villager reported that a public hearing is scheduled for August 13th on a proposed cell tower on 129 Old Turnpike Road in Woodstock.  This prompted me to dust off some recommendations on telecommunication facilities that I had submitted (as a private citizen) to the Woodstock Planning & Zoning Commission.

In one letter written four years ago, I noted that it was inevitable that at some point in the future this area will be explored by cell tower companies looking to expand their customer base.  I suggested that the Planning & Zoning Commission and the Town be proactive, and work together with the State of Connecticut Siting Council to develop a plan to site cell towers in such a way as to minimize the total number and impact.  If towns do not take the lead in charting their future, it will be done by others who have less of a vested interest in the area.

Even though the Siting Council is currently the ultimate decision maker on cell tower placement and design, towns still have a say.  The telecommunications applicant and the Siting Council are required to consult with the town.  In a press release in November of 2000, the Siting Council stated that, "While there may have been a refinement in jurisdiction, we strongly believe that municipal efforts and supporting documents should be maintained and will continue to be useful, and they should not be dismissed or abandoned."  So, although towns no longer have the authority to approve or deny local applications, the Siting Council agrees that, "Municipal input and guidance is absolutely necessary for this process to work."

Here are some of the recommendations I submitted for consideration, after researching best management practices nationwide:

  1. Towers and other supporting structures for antennas should be limited to a height at or near that of the forest canopy.  Antenna facilities should be placed on downslopes, rather than at the highest possible elevations, to prevent their being silhouetted against the sky.  This would reduce the impact on scenic vistas.  Height limitations would also alleviate the need to adhere to Federal Aviation Administration lighting requirements.

  2. Cellular towers should be located in commercial or industrial areas in highway corridors.

  3. Service providers should be required to provide substantial evidence that they are requesting permits for the least intrusive facilities available in the least intrusive locations under the circumstances.  

  4. Multiple antennas should be co-located on a single structure or clustered together on a single parcel of land.  Providers should be encouraged to share towers instead of building separate adjacent towers.

  5. Whenever possible, antennas should be placed on existing structures, such as electric-transmission towers.  Monopoles disguised as flags, or church spires, or realistic trees can be used to support antennas if the height is not excessive.  

  6. Fences, electrical sheds, and other parts of a telecommunications facility should be painted to blend in with the natural background.  No advertisements on towers should be allowed.

  7. Homeowners who will be impacted (either visually or by changes in property value) should be individually notified of proposed cellular towers.  A balloon at the maximum height of the proposed tower should be floated for at least one week, so owners can draw informed conclusions about the impact of the proposed cellular tower on their property.

  8. Telecommunications companies should fully include the community, town, federal and state agencies in planning for antennas, in part to avoid areas that are sensitive from a natural or cultural resource standpoint. 

  9. Removal of towers should be required in case of disuse or noncompliance with standards.

If interested parties work and plan together to design and select options that minimize the negative impacts of any new facilities, we can all enjoy the telecommunications technology while protecting the natural beauty and cultural resources of the Quiet Corner.   

Bet Zimmerman is a Certified Environmental Professional.

Originally published in the Villager newspapers on August 3, 2007

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