MOUNT DESERT —The nesting schedule of ospreys likely will dictate when AT&T Mobility installs additional antennas on its cell phone towers in Pretty Marsh and Somesville.
The Mount Desert planning board last week approved the company’s application to increase the number of antennas on each tower from six to 12 and the number of remote radio units from 12 to 27.
The 125-foot towers were erected only last fall. But ospreys have already started building nests atop both.
The osprey is one of North America’s largest birds of prey. Its diet consists almost entirely of fish, so its nests are always near water. It migrates south for the winter.
The osprey population experienced a sharp decline a half-century ago but has since rebounded to healthy, sustainable levels in most parts of the country. Neither the federal government nor the state of Maine lists the osprey as a threatened or endangered species.
Ospreys are one of about 1,000 species protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The Maine Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforces regulations created under that law.
“There is a procedure about when you can do the [antenna] work and how you do the work,” Barry Hobbins, the attorney representing AT&T, told the planning board. “You can’t go up and disrupt anything within their nesting period.”
Bob Gashlin, a telecommunications consultant working with AT&T, said the removal of the existing antennas and installation of new ones would take only about a day for each tower and would not involve removing the nests. Most if not all of the ospreys in this area already have left for the winter, according to Acadia National Park wildlife biologist Bruce Connery.
Indian Point Road resident William Hales told the AT&T representatives at the planning board meeting that they are providing two benefits.
“Without these towers, you wouldn’t have the ospreys,” he said. “They would be looking for dead pine trees. So, it seems to me you’re actually providing a service for the osprey.
“Second, from my own standpoint in our area, the sooner you get these antennas up, the better for the public,” Hales said.
Hobbins said the new antenna equipment is needed because of changes in technology and increased demand for service since the towers were first proposed.