That application has not yet been submitted. VTel has notified the selectboard, the planning commission, and the Windham Regional Commission of its intent to apply. The town and regional commission now have 45 days to make a recommendation on the project to the PSB - for, against, or for with reservations.
Smart began by describing 30 VSA § 248a, the law designed to provide a somewhat streamlined approval process for telecommunications facilities. Less time-consuming than the Act 250 process, 248a nevertheless “incorporates many Act 250 criteria,” Smart said. Projects are expected to conform to town and regional plans and local zoning regulations, for example. The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and the Division for Historic Preservation will also review the project.
Smart was unable to answer questions such as when the facility, if approved, would be constructed, the details of service plans, or exactly which areas of Halifax would be served by the facility. Coverage, Smart said, will be handled by a network; areas not directly served by the Halifax Center facility might be covered by proposed facilities in Whitingham, Marlboro, and Guilford. The Halifax Center facility is expected to cover about 300 homes; factors of distance and terrain make it hard to be more specific. Boosters can be made available to improve weak service in some cases.
According to the information packet sent to the relevant boards, agencies, and local abutters, the proposed facility will be a “90-foot, matte-gray, single-carrier metal communications pole.” It will be sited at least 100 feet from neighboring property lines and road frontage, and about 337 feet from the nearest off-property home. The “single carrier” designation, Smart said, refers to the facility’s design: Flush mounted panel antennas rather than the horizontally extended antennas generally used for multicarrier poles. This design is less visually obtrusive than the multicarrier design. Some residents questioned the term “single carrier,” noting Green Mountain Power’s smart metering program. GMP, Smart said, would be using VTel’s equipment, rather than adding more equipment to the pole or its site.
Next to the pole, a 10-by-7 concrete pad will hold an equipment cabinet; a 100-foot gravel access drive will connect the pad to Jacksonville Stage Road. Power lines to an existing utility pole will be run underground. A number of people who had read the packet were confused by the statement that the “facility does not exceed 140 feet in total height,” thinking it contradicted the 90 feet given as the actual pole height. Smart explained that the statement was just confirmation that the project is within the allowed limits for a “project of limited size and scope.” Projects that exceed those limits are subject to a lengthier approval process.
Steven Andrews asked if VTel has considered the impact on the historical character of the site? Smart said he is not aware that there has been any feedback from the state historical preservation officer yet, nor from the National Environmental Policy Act. The part of the process currently overseen by Smart is designed to address the requirements of the town plan and zoning.
Andrews and some others present were concerned by the proposed pole’s proximity to the Halifax Center Cemetery. He also contended that the equipment pad would be sited atop the foundation of an old schoolhouse. That building was demolished several years ago and the site leveled. Board member Lewis Sumner told the group that the schoolhouse had been on piers, and there is no foundation. Andrews, who has contacted the historical preservation officer, said he has been told that the state will send an archeologist to examine the site; he offered copies of an email as documentation. Andrews urged consideration of an alternate site to avoid delays due to possible litigation. Smart said a lot of thought goes into selecting a site; back-up sites are not generally part of the process. Larry Crosier, on whose property the pole would be sited, was asked if he would consider a different spot for it. “No,” he said.
Howard Smith said he thinks the site of an old school is very appropriate for a facility that will do so much to help the town’s children learn. “This is the future, folks!” Smith said. “We can’t live in the past.”
Despite questions about impacts on the cemetery or the putative school house foundation, it appeared that many residents are eager to see high speed service come to Halifax. The selectboard will consult with the planning commission and expects to make a decision on its recommendation at its next regular meeting.
In related business, board member Earl Holtz said he has received a press release stating that FairPoint DSL service is now available to residents of the Route 112 corridor south of Hubbard Hill Road. This includes side roads such as Pennel Hill, Phillips Hill, and Stowe Mountain.