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Not-for-Profit, Award-Winning Community News and Views for Windham County, Vermont • Since 2006

Town objects, but state OKs Brattleboro cell tower

Public Service Board says 120-foot-tall monopole needed here, and aesthetics are fine

BRATTLEBORO—Over the objections of town officials, the state has approved construction of a new AT&T cellular tower designed to improve service in the Interstate 91 corridor and other areas.

The Vermont Public Service Board issued a certificate of public good to AT&T Mobility and Blue Sky Towers LLC to build a 120-foot monopole tower at 1227 Putney Road, just north of the roundabout at I-91 Exit 3.

While Brattleboro officials had protested the project’s aesthetic impacts, the board noted that the developers agreed to build a shorter tower. Further modification or relocation, state officials found, will “frustrate the coverage goals” of AT&T.

“We conclude that, while the project will be visible from some surrounding areas, it will not have an undue adverse effect on the aesthetics of the area,” board members wrote in an order dated Oct. 30. “Therefore, we conclude that good cause exists to not defer to the town’s recommendations.”

Gov. Peter Shumlin has made a priority of expanding broadband and cellular service throughout the state, but it remains a work in progress in some areas. While Brattleboro has better cellular service than outlying towns, dead spots persist even on major roads.

AT&T’s Putney Road tower is supposed to upgrade the company’s service on I-91 and elsewhere, and it originally was designed at 140 feet tall with 12 antennas.

Town officials objected, arguing that “the top of the tower, including the multiplicity of antennas and devices to be located on the installation, will be visible and appear substantially out of context from several locations in Brattleboro that have identified scenic value, including the Connecticut River itself, if the tower rises to a height of 120 or 140 feet,” state documents show.

Brattleboro officials pointed to the town plan, which allows for review of development projects that may have a negative impact on historic or scenic resources.

The town asked that the tower be lowered to 100 feet or moved to “an unspecified alternate location,” documents say.

In response, the developer reduced the proposed tower’s height to 120 feet and “will paint the tower and antennas a dark brown color to further reduce visibility,” the Public Service Board says. But the developers say lowering the tower to 100 feet in accordance with the town’s request would diminish the installation’s effectiveness.

AT&T and Blue Sky Towers also maintain that there are no co-location opportunities on other, existing towers “that would allow them to fulfill their coverage objectives in the area.”

The Vermont Department of Public Service also weighed in, recommending approval of the tower. The “provision of consistent mobile wireless coverage from multiple carriers on travel corridors, especially on Interstates 89 and 91, is a significant state interest,” department officials wrote.

The Public Service Board’s approval — issued about two months after Brattleboro filed objections — says town officials have not explained how the tower project conflicts with the section of the town plan they cited.

“The petitioners have responded to the town’s concerns in positive fashion and have minimized the project’s aesthetic impacts to the extent feasible while still maintaining the project’s coverage goals,” the Public Service Board wrote. “We also note that our approval of the project is consistent with the recommendations of the Windham Regional Planning Commission.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #331 (Wednesday, November 11, 2015). This story appeared on page A1.

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