MOUNT DESERT, Maine — Local officials have voted in favor of implementing a townwide moratorium on communications towers.
The moratorium was prompted by an increasing number of inquiries the town has received from people who are interested in erecting cell phone towers in Mount Desert, according to Town Manager Michael MacDonald. MacDonald said Friday that selectmen voted Feb. 9 in favor of a six-month moratorium on such towers, but that it won’t officially be implemented unless local voters weigh in on the issue at Mount Desert’s annual town meeting in early May.
“We’re in the process of drafting the specific language of a moratorium,” MacDonald said. “We can have some influence on where they go and what they look like.”
The town does not regulate towers less than 40 feet tall, he said, and communications towers are exempt from local ordinances that apply to towers above that height.
With the selectmen’s vote, the planning board now is expected to begin drafting an ordinance that would apply to towers. Whether the moratorium would apply only to communications towers or also to other structures such as wind turbines depends on what the planning board recommends and what voters eventually approve, if anything.
MacDonald said that if voters approve the moratorium proposal in May, it would be retroactive to the selectmen’s Feb. 9 vote. If voters approve the measure, and if any towers start to go up after that date, they could be found in violation of the moratorium, MacDonald said.
The town manager said the initial 180-day period of the moratorium would expire in early August, but it is unlikely the town would be able to draft and adopt any tower ordinance by that time. That being the case, he said, it is “very probable” that selectmen would extend the moratorium for a second 180-day period, which then would expire in early February 2010.
Drafting an official moratorium, and then an ordinance, will not be easy, MacDonald said. The town does not want to inhibit the placement of antennas or equipment needed by wireless Internet company Red Zone to offer wireless broadband access throughout Mount Desert.
But at the same time, town officials recognize that they have a strong interest in protecting the scenic beauty of their coastal town.
“Part of the attraction of this place is that it is unspoiled,” MacDonald said. “If you go about giving people all these [technological] conveniences, it’s diminishing the unspoiled character. It’s just not simple,” he said, to craft such an ordinance.
Officials with College of the Atlantic have expressed an interest in erecting a wind turbine at Beech Hill Farm near the local village of Somesville, according to MacDonald, but they have yet to seek a permit to do so. Representatives from COA are expected to meet with selectmen on Feb. 24 to talk about the project and the tower moratorium, he said.
The town is expected to hold public hearings on other issues on the same date, MacDonald said. A public hearing on a proposed renovation of the Northeast Harbor marina is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the town office, while a public hearing on the town’s proposed comprehensive plan is scheduled for the same time at Mount Desert Elementary School.