Friday, June 27, 2003
Expert details recommendations, locations for cell towers
Maybe it was the long-awaited arrival of summer that kept people away. Perhaps the front page article in the Mosquito the previous week satisfied everyone's curiosity. Or maybe it was "cell tower fatigue" after years of heated debate with no results to show for it. Whatever the reason, only a dozen or so townsfolk showed up on June 23 at the Planning Board meeting for the much-heralded presentation by Broadcast Signal Lab of Medfield, Mass. (BSL) on the results of their wireless facility study.
The presentation by David Maxson of BSL was delayed by 15 minutes while individuals straggled into the Clark Room and the board members puzzled over the lack of interest. Maxson began with a slide show reviewing the results of his report entitled "Evaluation of Wireless Facility Demands in Carlisle, MA." The study, assisted by GPR of Harvard, who did the land survey, identified 23 potential sites that meet the setback requirements of 900 feet, and 16 sites with setbacks of 500 to 750 feet that would require variances. Maxson promised that a final version of the report would be submitted to the town (in pdf format, not print) in several days. "These are suggested sites," he cautioned, "so keep your gun in your holster."
Maxson focused on the 130-foot "high intensity facility" and the 70-foot "low intensity flagpole" antennas. Showing maps of the town with various colors to represent coverage of the six popular carriers (Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, Cingular, T-Mobile, and Nextel), he identified the dead spots all cell phone users in town long ago have discovered. Maxson explained that the large blue area representing adequate coverage in the south of town emanated from the AT&T antenna on the smoke stack of the Middlesex School.
One by one, Maxson filled in the dead spots around town with strategically placed facilities. The first site location was a 130-foot tower on the Woodward property off Bedford Road to cover a quarter of the town in the southeast corner. He then added a 130-foot tower on the Conant land, or better yet, a 70-foot or higher tower on school property, to cover the town center. "The Conant site is less effective," explained Maxson, "because of the hill where the school is located." A 130-foot tower on the Gage woodlot or in the state park would cover the northern part of town. A fourth tower, a 70-foot flagpole on the Benfield property on West Street, filled out the overlay, although Maxson admitted that another 70-foot tower somewhere near the Curve Street · Westford Street intersection would be ideal. With these four, or possibly five locations, Carlisle would be ready to participate in the 21
Larry Bearfield of North Road had the first question. "What are we looking at in terms of revenue?" Maxson cited instances where the fees ranged from $15,000 a year all the way up to $40,000 annually per carrier. Thus a 130-foot tower with three tenants could fetch over $100,000, a well-needed boost to the Carlisle coffers if the tower is on town property.
Larry Barton of Elizabeth Ridge Road wondered if the study would have been different had it been done five years ago, before PCS (a system using digital signals, which do not travel as far as older analog signals). Maxson described how technology continues to change, from "one large 190-foot tower on a hilltop that blanketed an 8-mile region." "PCS is a higher frequency and more obstructed, with more capacity and smaller footprints" he continued.
Barton followed up by asking whether technology is available to provide service without towers, i.e. telephone poles. "The FCC demands rapid deployment, which requires towers," answered Maxson. He described an earlier concept of using excess cable capacity, with occasional antennas atop telephone poles providing local coverage - but the advent of Broadband used up all the excess capacity. Also with the tendency toward buried utilities, even the idea of using poles is outdated.
Rick Blum of Elizabeth Ridge Road observed that the four or five locations identified would only service half the number of carriers if you assume three tenants per tower. "What about the others?" he asked. This caused some discomfort, as Maxson proposed two flagpole towers 50-feet apart for each site. The thought of ten towers punctuating the town landscape provoked groans from the audience. John Ballantine of Fiske Street foresees the six popular carriers merging over the next five years to possibly only three or four. Maxson saw little relief from this evolution because, "You will still need the capacity."
Larry Bearfield posed a more personal question to Maxson. "If you lived in Carlisle, would you be willing to send your children to school if there were a cell tower on site?" This prompted Planning Board member Dan Holzman to jump up and exclaim, "We already have a microwave antenna on the roof of the school for police and fire communications. It's been there for 20 years!" Maxson described our air as being filled with electromagnetic radiation, the least of which is cell phone traffic. He recently performed a radiation test for one of the neighboring towns and found the highest signal intensity came from a local fast food restaurant where workers used head sets to communicate. Maxson suggested that there is greater danger to the cell phone user whose transmitter is being held against his/her ear. This elicited a flurry of anecdotal evidence from the audience regarding brain tumors and other horrible byproducts of cell phone use.
Jennine Blum of Elizabeth Ridge Road asked about the legal aspect of wireless coverage. "What percentage of coverage do we need to avoid losing in land court?" she asked. "The question they ask is · Is there a significant gap in coverage?" replied Maxson. "Vehicular traffic also enters into the decision, as well as inhabited area." This prompted Rick Blum to raise the question of cell phone use in automobiles. "Could cell phones be banned in cars in a few years?" he wondered. Maxson at first pondered the possibility of users pulling over to curbside and into driveways to talk, which then elicited the vision of hundreds of cars lining the highway, which opened a Pandora's box of comical side effects. His presentation had obviously come to a conclusion.
Before closing the meeting, Larry Barton asked chair Louise Hara, "Is it your intent to change the bylaw?" referring to the 900-foot setback restriction that severely limits possible sites. Hara explained that the Planning Board initiated the study to find out how the existing bylaw was functioning. "This is a first step. We will have to continue dialog with the town to determine whether we change the bylaw. Do we want the carriers to dictate to us, or do we want to assess the options in a methodical fashion?" That seemed to satisfy everyone in the audience and Maxson thanked the small cluster of people who attended for listening to the result of his efforts.
In other business, the Planning Board decided to extend the subdivision permit of Michael Kenney for Hart Farm Estates by two months to August 29. Kenney still believes that he can complete all the requirements by the original deadline of June 27, but the board doesn't meet again until July, thus the extension.
© 2003 The