SEDGWICK, Maine — After being put through the wringer with the initial developer of a soon-to-open wireless communication tower, the local planning board has put new developments on hold while it hashes out an ordinance to deal with future tower applications.
The town is currently home to two towers, one on Sedgwick Ridge Road and the newly constructed monopole on Caterpillar Hill. That second tower was a headache for the town until the initial developer, Centerline Communications of Canton, Mass., sold the project to Grain Communications of Sarasota, Fla.
The problem is the town has no ordinance in place to deal with tower construction, Code Enforcement Officer Duane Ford said. Instead, planning board members and selectmen used their authority under the site-plan review process to negotiate with the tower companies.
That process, Ford said, was less than ideal.
“[The ordinance] is very thin,” he said in a Wednesday interview. “They’ve just been flying by the seat of their pants.”
Last fall, the town accused Centerline of violating an agreement that construction wouldn’t start until the company had a provided the town with a surety bond, which Ford said had not been secured when the company started work in October.
“We were not pleased,” he said. Selectmen had Ford issue a stop-work permit at the site, and eventually Centerline sold the project to Grain. Ford said that since the sale, everything has gone smoothly.
Grain Communications operates about 100 towers around the country, said Stacey Mathis, the company’s project manager.
Mathis said the only tenant so far is the U.S. Coast Guard, which is putting up a relay point for its Rescue 21 advanced command and control system. And the town has required Grain to allow for the placement of fire department and county dispatch transmitters. That still leaves room for three or four cellphone satellites, Mathis said.
The new tower is expected to be operational very soon.
“We’re working with the power company and the phone company,” he said Wednesday. “We’re on their schedule now.”
In the meantime, planning board members are digesting a proposed “Wireless Telecommunications Facilities Ordinance,” which would have to be accepted by voters at a special town meeting.
Ford said the ordinance language was drafted by new planning board member Peter Neill, though Ford also had a hand in researching the best practices for processing tower applications.
“I’ve been working on it, going back four or five years,” Ford said. “I’ve been looking at other towns like Brooklin, Liberty, Ellsworth, Blue Hill. … I’ve been constantly trying to bring this up, but for one reason or another I couldn’t get it on the table. But once this [Centerline] incident flared up, it was easier.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.