Are baseball fields OK for cell phone towers?

Posted March 26, 2009, at 12:56 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A seemingly benign request this week renewed an interesting discussion among Bangor leaders about the sanctity of city property when it comes to cell phone towers.

KJK Wireless, a subsidiary of cell phone giant U.S. Cellular, has asked to lease space from the city on one of the 90-foot-tall light towers at Mansfield Stadium where the company would install a panel-style transmitter.

Bob Gashlin, a consultant for KJK, told members of the city’s government operations committee Tuesday that U.S. Cellular is prepared to pay $1,700 a month over 30 years (more than $600,000) for access to that light tower.

“That’s money that taxpayers don’t have to come up with,” he said. “It’s a big benefit.”

While this is not the first request to put a cell phone tower on city-owned property, it is the first known request to co-locate a tower on a light post.

“I am opposed to this,” Councilor Hal Wheeler said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I’ve done the math and it’s an impressive figure. But despite the obvious advantage, I think there are some things we don’t sell and one of those is integrity.”

Other councilors were less concerned about the precedent and said it’s a sign of the times.

“I think cell phone towers are a part of the urban landscape now,” Councilor Geoffrey Gratwick said. “I do agree that we don’t sell certain things, but I don’t think integrity is on the block here.”

Added Councilor Pat Blanchette: “I’m not happy with antennas going up everywhere, but I understand it.”

Mansfield Stadium, off Union Street, is a youth baseball stadium that was constructed in the early 1990s through a donation from Stephen and Tabitha King, who live near the park. Bangor Parks and Recreation Director Tracy Willette, who is working with KJK on the request, said the Kings have not opposed the installation.

Willette said the monthly payment from KJK and U.S. Cellular would provide the Parks and Rec Department with a funding source it hasn’t had before.

“We would use this money to establish a reserve account for repairs and improvements,” Willette said, adding that the city cannot rely on the Kings’ generosity forever.

Federal telecommunication laws indicate that municipalities cannot prohibit cell phone towers, although cities and towns do have some discretion over where they can and should be located. City Manager Edward Barrett said, in many cases, Bangor prefers to co-locate cell phone towers within existing structures. In fact, many church steeples within the city have cell phone towers and the churches benefit from the monthly lease payment.

Blanchette asked Gashlin if U.S. Cellular would consider another location instead, such as Bass Park. The telecommunications consultant explained that Mansfield Stadium was the best location to help improve service in an area where U.S. Cellular is relatively weak. Gashlin also said the tower would be located on a light post behind the stadium’s grandstand and would not be in spectators’ line of sight.

The government operations committee agreed to send the request to the full City Council early next month. As long as Wheeler is present, the debate will no doubt resume.

“It seems that everything that is tall in the city has or will soon have a cell phone tower,” he said.

erussell@bangordailynews.net

990-8167

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