Veazie council to consider telecommunications tower regulations

Posted Nov. 16, 2010, at 12:01 a.m.

VEAZIE, Maine — Despite the state’s concerns about the impact on a statewide communication system for public safety agencies, the planning board voted 4-1 to send proposed regulations for telecommunication towers to the Town Council.

The matter is slated to be on the council’s Dec. 6 meeting agenda, Code Enforcement Officer Alan Thomas said after the board’s vote.

The amendments to the town’s land-use ordinance were drafted in response to local concerns about the state’s plans to construct a 180-foot tower on Buck Hill.

Besides establishing height and setback limits, the ordinance changes would restrict most wireless communication facilities to the industrial zone between Interstate 95 and Stillwater Avenue.

Officials from the state Office of Information Technology say the tower would be a key link in the Maine State Communications Network, or MSCommNet, which aims to improve communication capabilities for first responders and emergency workers.

The plan proved unpopular with some residents, including homeowners on Buck Hill. Several Buck Hill residents have been following the project closely and were on hand for Monday’s meeting to express support for the proposed rules and ask if there were other alternatives that the state could explore.

The land where the tower would be located is owned by the Orono-Veazie Water District, which would lease it to the state for a monthly fee.

Among the biggest complaints from residents were the negative effect on property values, radiation and overall aesthetics, according to news reports published earlier in the Bangor Daily News.

Tom Driscoll, outreach coordinator for the state information technology office, said that because of its central location, the Veazie tower is critical to the statewide communication program, which calls for 42 towers strategically placed throughout the state.

Driscoll did, however, say that the state has identified a site along Kelly Road in Orono that would work. The state did not pursue that location, near the headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America Katahdin Area Council, because erecting the tower there would have a far greater visual impact and because it would cost more to develop, Driscoll said after the meeting.

The planning board’s vote came after a public hearing that drew about 30 people, most of them residents. In addition to residents of Buck Hill who oppose the tower there was a town council member and town staffers, including public safety personnel.

Planning board member John Manter, who is a Veazie firefighter, cast the sole opposing vote. He said he was “not at ease” with the restrictions set forth in the set of amendments because of their implication on emergency communications.

Veazie public safety officials, including Fire Chief Gerry Martin and Capt. Peter Metcalf, said Monday night that they had hoped to piggyback on the state tower, a move they said would have improved their ability to communicate among themselves, with their dispatchers and with public safety personnel in their mutual aid agencies in outlying communities.

In order to gain time to review its existing ordinance and address any shortcomings, including its lack of setbacks and height limits, the town council imposed a 180-day moratorium on such towers on March 1. When that moratorium expired this summer, councilors imposed another one, which expired in February 2011.

Driscoll noted that the state is in a time crunch. Federal law requires that the system be up and running by the fall of 2012.

Driscoll and Shawn Romanoski, radio services director, said Monday night that it was not yet clear what the state’s next step will be.

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