Town permit is not needed for cell tower
by Mike Eldred
May 09, 2013 | 2582 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DOVER- Local resident Eric Nilsen accused selectboard members of denying Dover residents their constitutional right to due process by not following the town’s telecommunication ordinance.

The accusation came after Nilsen requested a copy of an application and permit for a cell tower that AT&T plans to build, replacing an adjacent tower, on private property at the top of Dover Hill. Nilsen, a neighboring homeowner, voiced his opposition to the plan at a board meeting a month ago, and again at an AT&T presentation on the tower held at the board’s last meeting.

When Nilsen asked for copies of documents required under the town’s telecommunications ordinance, board members struggled for an answer. Selectboard chair Randy Terk said the board hadn’t issued any permit, but had signed a letter of support.

“Have you guys not fulfilled your duties under the town ordinance?” asked Nilsen. “By not (following the ordinance) you have denied the whole town their constitutional right to due process under the Fifth Amendment.”

The comment was met by silence from the board. “Out of five people, nobody knew what to do?” he demanded. “Nobody has anything to say?”

Terk said the board would investigate the ordinance.

A later communication from Dover Town Administrator Nona Monis explained that the process under which AT&T’s tower was approved bypassed the town’s ordinance. Under Vermont Statutes Annotated, Title 30, §248a, a service provider can apply to the Vermont Public Service Board, which can grant a certificate of public good for a telecommunications facility, preempting local ordinances adopted under state statute.

Although the PSB is required to give local municipal plans “strong consideration,” according to a Vermont Land Use Education and Training Collaborative publication, some municipal leaders have questioned the process.

In an op-ed published on vtdigger.com, Newfane Selectboard member John Mack called the state process and preemption of local ordinances undemocratic, leaving “no room to insist that the (telecommunications firm) respond seriously to local concerns, particularly with regard to the choice of site.”

When Newfane officials met with a PSB hearing officer by teleconference regarding an AT&T project in their town, Mack says “It was made clear in no uncertain terms that the town’s concerns with the violations of its ordinance … were irrelevant and immaterial to the PSB’s decision-making process.” Mack said the process leaves local leaders little choice but to accept the telecommunication company’s proposal and the state’s decision.

In other matters Tuesday evening, selectboard members approved the expenditure of up to $135,000 of money from the town’s 1% local option tax economic development fund to build a proposed park on town-owned land on Route 100.

Economic development specialist Ken Black updated the board on the park proposal, which now includes several additions and features recommended by local residents at a hearing held last month. A new fence along Route 100 has been added, replacing the current split rail fence. Black also said that, based on recommendations offered by Adam Levine, the park committee marked out an area representing the proposed 16-foot gazebo and a 20-foot gazebo. “There’s no question that the 20-foot gazebo seems to fit much better,” Black said.

After a trip that included a stop at a Boston playground, Black recommended using rubber mulch rather than natural mulch on the playground. “It was amazing how nice it was, and I would recommend spending the money for the extra level of safety.”

And the park may be ready sooner than expected. Black said he’d like to look into installing sod on the lot, rather than hydroseeding per the original proposal. “One of the things we heard from people was that they’d like to be able to use it sooner rather than later,” Black said.

The board also approved economic development spending of $2,000 to support the mobile Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which will be erected at Howe Field in Wilmington in July. The total request from Dover for the event was $3,000. Black said Wilmington’s selectboard approved $2,000 for the event, and the American Legion, which serves both towns, is spending $4,500 to bring the wall to the valley. But Black speculated that the display may not attract many visitors to the valley because it will also be on display in Boston and other areas in the Northeast this summer. “For those reasons, it makes it difficult to make a recommendation, but it is an interesting event. I would recommend supporting the event for $1,500.”

Board members questioned Jim Dassatti, who submitted the application on behalf of the group that’s organizing the event and display, and lodging group representative Simon Ferris about some of the expenditures listed in the application. Ferris said that the event has been advertised with Americade (a motorcycle touring rally), Mothers for Daughters, Backroads Magazine, and the chamber of commerce. Some of the funding would be used for printing a poster Ferris designed, but he said he was donating his time for designing the poster and other work on the event. “Some of the money will also be used for a series of banners in Wilmington and Dover to advertise the event,” he said.

Dassatti estimated 2,400 visitors would come to town for the event, basing it on crowds at the Living History Association’s annual history event at Howe Field. “There are Vietnam veterans, their families, and people who are just interested in this,” he said. “There will be people in Boston who didn’t get to see it when it came to Boston, and they’ll come here. I don’t think we’ll have any trouble making those numbers. LHA members have already volunteered to bring tents and guard the site for four days, and the lodging owners contacted me about this – usually I have to go around and beg.”

And in other discussions, Dover Police Chief Robert Edwards handed in his official resignation, effective November 1. Edwards had announced his upcoming retirement from the department at Town Meeting.

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