Lewis was first to testify, advising the board that amateur radio facilities are governed by federal, not municipal, law. Because such facilities can “serve public purposes,” including communications during emergencies, the federal government has an interest in ensuring that radio hams can operate freely throughout the country. State law (VS 24.96) is in line with federal law, Lewis added; both state and federal law override local ordinances.
Hammarquist, an expert-class radio operator who is licensed by the FCC, told those present that he has used antennas located in trees near his home since he moved to Halifax in 1997. Severe weather events, such as the 2008 ice storm, have made it necessary to put those antennas up numerous times, Hammarquist said. The proposed tower, with an antenna mounted on top, will be a more stable installation. At 85 feet, Hammarquist told the board, the tower will allow the radio signal to clear the 70-foot-high trees surrounding his home, and the structure can be made sufficiently stable to resist 120 mph winds. Hammarquist also pointed out that “the higher the antenna, the less radiation at ground level.”
Lewis interjected here, to make it clear that “radiation” in this case refers to radio waves, not radioactivity. Lewis also stated that the municipality has “no authority” over any amateur radio operations, a point he repeated at intervals throughout the hearing.
Jesse Ferland, who lives across the road from Hammarquist, testified to his concerns regarding interception of private telephone conversations. Ferland referred to an incident involving Hammarquist’s son which took place several years ago.
Lewis interrupted Ferland’s testimony to state at some length that his information was “not relevant” and that the town has “no authority to regulate the use of electronic equipment.” Board member Norman Fajans asked Fisher to make it clear to Lewis that he should not interrupt testimony. Fisher, recognizing Lewis’ objection as a point of law, requested that the attorney wait to make any further remarks.
Ferland concluded his testimony, reiterating his reluctance to discuss the incident in public and stating that he did so out of a desire “to protect adjacent residents and the community.” He suggested that the board consult with the FCC on the matter.
Ferland’s concerns were echoed by Amber Werner. At that point, Hammarquist said that neither he nor his son, who now resides elsewhere, “have any memory” of the incident. If Ferland’s recollection is accurate, Hammarquist added, “it should not have happened” and he apologized. Hammarquist said that while it would be legal for him to intercept conversations, it would not be legal to relate their content to others. More important, he said, he has no interest whatsoever in listening to any private communications.
Werner also brought up safety considerations, asking Hammarquist what steps he planned to take to protect inquisitive children. Hammarquist told her that the base of the tower will be sheathed in an “anti-climb device,” that there will be plastic pipes enclosing the lower reaches of the guy wires, and that he will put up warning signs.
In answer to Werner’s concerns regarding possible hazards from electromagnetic fields, Hammarquist said he will be broadcasting at less than 100 watts, low enough to avoid harmful effects. Responding to a question from Fajans, Hammarquist said he has an amplifier that could boost the transmissions to 700 watts, but he does not expect to need or use it.
Werner and her husband Alan brought up the “negative visual effects” of the tower. Alan Werner asked if the tower could be located elsewhere on the property. Hammarquist replied that the antenna must be sited close to the transmitter to be of any use.
Marilyn Allen asked about possible interference with a neighbor’s pacemaker. Hammarquist said the medical device will not be affected by his transmissions.
Board members asked whether more than one antenna will be put on the tower.
“Yes,” replied Hammarquist, there will, including a repeater to be used by another party. In keeping with federal law, there will be no for-profit use of the facilities.
Fisher asked about possible difficulties and expenses involved in taking the tower down in the future. Hammarquist said that the equipment is always in demand and can be sold or given away to another ham. “Someone who knows what he is doing,” said Hammarquist, “can take it down in about an hour.”
The board will make its decision in deliberative session.
Meeting briefly as the planning commission, board members voted to approve a subdivision application from Paul Reavy, et al., for their Phillips Hill Road property.