Board members approved a proposal by AT&T to construct a new 135-foot cell tower on “Stub” Thomas’ Dover Hill property. The new tower would replace a shorter tower already on the property, and would occupy a new site several yards away from the current tower.
At the board’s last meeting Eric Nilson, who owns property close to the site, objected to the plan, citing concerns about the effects of radio frequency (RF) radiation on humans. Tuesday evening, AT&T attorney Will Dodge offered the board an overview of the plan. He said that the new tower was part of an infrastructure expansion that was initiated in 2011, two years after AT&T acquired the assets of Unicel. “Since 2011, AT&T has spent $50 million improving infrastructure in Vermont,” he said. “We took service from analog voice to 3G data service. Now we’re focusing on expanding service.”
In Windham County, the expansion includes improving service in valley towns, including Newfane, Jamaica, Dover, Winhall, and Rockingham. “This project focuses on the Dover to Dummerston drop zone,” Dodge said, “We’ve addressed Newfane, and now the goal is to make Dover work.”
Dodge said that an antenna located on Thomas’ property would not only fill in many of the “dead spots” from East Dover to Newfane, it would also provide improved reception in West Dover. Dodge showed a pair of maps, one of which indicated areas of Dover that currently have varying degrees of coverage, from full coverage indoors to intermittent coverage. The second map showed the expanded coverage offered by the new tower, including enlarged “full coverage” and “reliable coverage” areas in West Dover, as well as a greatly expanded coverage area from East Dover to Newfane. But there would still be a few scattered areas that won’t get a signal. “Unfortunately, this is line-of-sight technology,” said Dodge. “There are some areas that won’t be served.”
And it may not only be AT&T customers that would benefit. Dodge said Verizon Wireless has expressed interest in putting an antenna on the tower.
Additionally, AT&T would provide space for public safety antennas on the tower, including town highway and fire department antennas. West Dover Fire Chief Rich Werner said AT&T has even offered the town space inside the equipment shelter, located at the base of the tower, for municipal communications equipment. The town’s radio equipment would also be powered by AT&T’s backup generator in the event of a power outage.
Dodge told board members that, with the exception of a motion-activated light at the entrance of the equipment shelter, there would be no additional lighting, and no flashing aircraft warning at the top of the tower would be required.
The tower would be visible from several locations along roads surrounding Dover Hill, and Dodge said AT&T did consider a disguised, faux pine, tower. Showing photos from various locations with an image of the faux pine tower pasted in, however, Dodge said designers dropped the idea because, from some locations, the faux pine heightened the visibility of the tower.
On the subject of safety, Dodge said that, under federal guidelines, the risk of exposure to RF signals posed by the cell tower was minimal. If the signal were pointed directly at someone on the ground under the tower, he said, they would be exposed to 0.06% of the maximum permissible level of RF radiation. “It’s very low power,” he said.
Dodge said the FCC hasn’t waivered from their determination of the maximum permissible exposure from cell tower emissions, and noted that current studies are focusing on the cell phones themselves. “They’re not concerned about antenna facilities, they’re looking at things like your iPhone, and how close should you be holding that to your head.”
But Nilsen, who had expressed concern about the facility at the board’s last meeting, said that the federal guidelines only took into account the “thermal affect” of RF radiation on humans. “As I understand it, there’s a difference between the thermal effect and the effect from the constant low-level exposure to RF.” Nilsen said his objections were based on international studies. “Right now, in this country, we’re looking at a 50-year-old standard, not at the effect of being bombarded with RF all day. We’re not doing any studies, and I bet AT&T isn’t funding any studies.”
Nilsen said his property on nearby Bucket Lane was directly in the tower’s line of site. “At this point, what I’m looking at is having to shield my property.”
Nilsen said AT&T should expect a lawsuit on the matter.
But planning commissioner Geraldine Golet said she had also researched scientific opinion on the effect of RF signals from cell towers. “It’s my understanding that the RF isn’t something that’s going to alter your DNA to cause cancer, and the power level is very low, and the signals are going to be intermittent,” she said. “I live on Antler Loop, and it would be nice to have cell service. I can’t get high speed Internet, so it would be nice to have service on a cell phone.”
In other matters, the board approved a $15,000 grant to fund the Independent Television and Film Festival that Philip Gilpin of Green Mountain Marketing is organizing for this summer.
Economic development specialist Ken Black said the money would go toward four large tents in which the festival events will be held. The tents will be placed at the Hermitage, the Inn at Sawmill Farm, the Cooper Hill Inn, and Dover Forge. Black said deposits on the tents must be made soon, to guarantee they’ll be available for the festival. He recommended the board approve the full amount. “I think it’s an exciting event, and this is the first time it will be held on the East Coast. It could make a lot of money for businesses in town.”
Gilpin said he was also seeking sponsors for the event, and recently got word that Woodchuck Cider would kick in either $5,000 or $10,000 for the festival. Other donors include People’s Bank, Rich Caplan, and The Last Chair. “And I’ve gotten more than $100,000 in in-kind donations,” he said.
Gilpin said people are reacting enthusiastically to the festival. “I’ve already sold six tickets,” he said, “which may not seem like much, but usually they don’t start selling until about 30 days before the event. It’s amazing how much support we’ve gotten from the community and how many projects have been submitted. There’s been a resurgence in interest in New York City because of this (festival) and the buzz is starting to grow.”