A photo simulation of what the proposed new 125-foot cell tower on the KOA campground property will look like from the intersection of Route 102 and Gilbert Farm Road. IMAGE COURTESY OF TOWN OF BAR HARBOR

Cell tower approved

BAR HARBOR — Plans for a new 120-foot “monopine” cell tower on property owned by the KOA campground at 1453 Route 102 in Town Hill cleared Planning Board review last week.

The board unanimously approved the site plan application from Verizon Wireless for the facility but said the building permit would not be issued until remaining environmental permits and full engineering drawings are submitted.

No members of the public attended the Aug. 16 Planning Board hearing to offer comment.

Chip Fredette of Verizon said the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review of the project is expected to be complete by October. Until that is in hand, he said, “we cannot commission a geotechnical analysis.”

That’s because, he said, according to a new in-house policy at Verizon, “we don’t even want to put a three-inch drill bit into the ground until NEPA is complete, because there could be tribal artifacts we don’t know about.”

That geotechnical survey needs to happen “to figure out what kind of tower foundation is necessary,” Fredette said.

Once Verizon builds the tower, other wireless carriers may add their own antenna arrays to it. Board member John Fitzpatrick said when the final drawings are submitted, they should include load calculations “verifying it will support no less than three concurrent arrays.”

The “pine” disguise part of the tower adds an additional few feet, so the tower likely will be closer to 125 feet tall, but the board said it may not exceed 125.

Attorney Ed Bearor, representing the Planning Board, said he wanted to be sure the property owners were aware of additional restrictions on use of their land, beyond the 100-by-100-foot area they’re leasing to Verizon.

“The owner of the rest of the property is subject to a no-build, negative easement beyond the lease area,” Bearor said. That’s because of a requirement in Bar Harbor’s zoning that no structures be built within the “fall area,” a circular area extending 105 percent of the tower height from the center of the base of the tower.

Fredette said Verizon had discussed that with the property owners, but the board asked Code Enforcement Officer Angela Chamberlain to send a letter to them explaining the restriction in order to have an official record.

The town’s ordinance also requires a 1,500-foot setback for wireless communications towers from any public or private schools or child care facilities. There is a home child care facility in the neighborhood in question within 900 feet of the tower, but Verizon’s Scott Anderson said they didn’t think the setback applied to in-home day care businesses.

But Anderson also said it’s Verizon’s position that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules regulating radio frequency emissions pre-empt any local rules that regulate these facilities out of concern for potential health effects.

He said he had not seen a similar limitation in any other town. “In downtown Manchester, New Hampshire or downtown Boston, there are sites every other block. We have sites at schools and medical centers. Every place we can get a call, there’s a tower that’s exposing us to RF emissions, the levels are just so very low that it really hasn’t been much of an issue.”

He called the 1,500-foot setback a “carryover from the first generation of municipal regulations where there was a lot of concern about this.”

Emissions from the site are expected to be less than 2 percent of the allowable level under FCC rules.

Bearor said he would rather use the latter justification for approving the project and “acknowledge that federal regulations would probably pre-empt our standard, rather than rely on a definition of day care.”


Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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