Colchester, Essex deny cell tower requests

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The Essex Jct. Board of Trustees unanimously denied a California company’s request to place a cell pole in the village’s right-of-way.

Mobilitie, which describes itself as the “largest privately-held telecommunications infrastructure company in the United States,” requested to build a 120-foot pole with a 3-foot base on Pearl Street in the village.

“That’s the dumbest place I’ve ever seen for anything to be built,” trustee Elaine Sopchak said during the Nov. 22 meeting.

Joint municipal manager Pat Scheidel recommended the trustees deny the proposal, asserting in a memo the pole’s height is “totally out of context” with the surrounding properties.

Jennille Smith, Mobilitie’s permitting manager in the region who made the request, deferred to a Mobilitie spokesperson when reached last Friday. On Monday, a California public relations firm contacted the Reporter to ask for questions in writing.

The firm responded with a statement its provided to at least one other media outlet, reading: “We work to bring greater wireless connectivity to cities and rural areas in order to deliver a better mobile and Internet experience, help communities bridge the digital divide and enable technology-driven economic growth opportunities.”

Mobilitie has partnered with Sprint to build 70,000 poles in the public right-of-way over the next few years, yet the company has run into opposition while trying to spread its reach, both nationwide and locally.

Colchester denied Mobilitie’s request to place a pole in the middle of a residential neighborhood on Williams Road earlier this year. Officials were concerned by the lack of information provided in the “very informal” application, according to Colchester public works director Bryan Osborne.

The proposal wasn’t even stamped by a licensed engineer, one of the first considerations when looking over an application, Osborne said.

“It’s just significantly out of scale for the area they were proposing to put this,” he said.

Mobilitie responded to that denial with another request in the same exact location.

“They apparently didn’t like the answer,” Osborne said.

In at least 30 states, the company has filed applications under various subsidiaries, including “Illinois Utility Pole Authority” and “NC Technology Relay Networking,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Mobilitie CEO Gary Jabara told the WSJ names like these help towns understand the status of his firm, adding in the future, the company will most often use Mobilitie when dealing with local officials.

“We work to meet the needs of the community and provide as much transparency as possible,” Mobilitie’s statement reads.

For Vermont, the company applied for a certificate of public good under the name “Relay Network Technology VT, LLC.”

  The certificate, issued by the Public Service Board — a quasi-judicial entity that supervises the state’s public utilities — is required for any company planning to offer telecommunication services in the state.

Companies must inform municipalities 60 days before filing a petition to the PSB. During that period, towns can request a meeting with the petitioner and the Vt. Department of Public Service, and also submit comments which must be given substantial deference “unless there is good cause to find otherwise,” statute says.

In addition, a town can become a formal party to the proceedings by filing a motion to intervene explaining why they may be adversely affected by the project.

If accepted, towns can then provide testimony and participate in evidentiary hearings. In cases where towns raise a significant issue, the board will hold a prehearing conference to determine how to manage the case.

Before the PSB can issue a certificate, it must determine the project will not have “undue adverse effect” on aesthetics, historic sites, air and water purity; the natural environment, public health and safety and public use and enjoyment of the state’s scenic corridors, including interstates 89 and 91.

DPS is now required to perform a co-location analysis to see if the applicant can piggyback onto an existing location.

Once the hearings are completed, the board issues a decision. Any appeals go to the Vermont Supreme Court. Applicants seeking permits aren’t required to adhere to local zoning ordinances, according to statute.

Mobilitie doesn’t currently have any petitions before the PSB, according to the board’s clerk, Judith Whitney.

The company has also requested a pole in Bennington that disrupted view of the Bennington Battle Monument. The town’s planning commission said it’s willing to work with the company to find a better location, noting a need for better wireless service.

Scheidel informed Mobilitie via letter that any further requests should be sent to the village’s planning commission. The locations should be on private property and conform to the village’s land development code, he added.

During the Nov. 22 meeting, Scheidel noted the company’s persistence in Colchester and assumed the company will make another request.

“They’re obviously on a mission,” Scheidel said.

“Well, we are, too,” village president George Tyler replied.