MOUNT DESERT — “The cell tower is looking aesthetically unappealing,” Code Enforcement Officer Kim Keene wrote in an April 21 email to officials of American Tower Corporation about its tower in Otter Creek.
The 125-foot structure bore a passable resemblance to a pine tree – albeit a giant one – when it was erected in late 2015. But it doesn’t anymore.
“Various branches are missing, and the fake pine needles are falling off,” Keene wrote. “It’s supposed to look and be maintained as a tree.”
But now, the large array of antennas at the top of the tower are no longer obscured.
The Planning Board attached several conditions to its August 2014 approval of an application by New Cingular Cellular – which became AT&T Mobility – to build the tower.
The board required the applicant “to design and camouflage the tower (to) blend in with the surrounding environment to the greatest extent feasible,” basing the design on the Eastern white pine, “which is characterized by asymmetrical branching.”
Rick Tufts, the operations site lead for American Tower’s sites in Maine and northern New Hampshire, responded to Keene less than 24 hours after she sent her email.
“A project will be opened to repair the camouflage,” he wrote. “I was aware of the conditions and reported this to my supervisor back in August, but at the time there was pending work on the tower and, rather than damage new camouflage, we chose to wait until that was complete.”
Tufts said he has not confirmed that T-Mobile has completed its work on the tower, but if it has, then the camouflage repair project can go ahead.
“I am in discussion with my supervisor on a plan to get this work done,” he told Keene.
The section of the town’s Land Use Zoning Ordinance that governs “wireless communication facilities” states that they “shall be designed to blend into the surrounding environment to the greatest extent feasible” and that “consideration shall be given to views from public areas as well as from private residences and from Acadia National Park…”
After the application to build the tower in Otter Creek was filed six years ago, Acadia officials expressed concern that a typical cell tower, or even a “monopine” tower such as the one on Ireson Hill in Bar Harbor, would distract from the scenic views from several places in the park. The applicant responded by proposing the white pine tree design.
John Kelly, the park planner at the time, told the planning board that the park would prefer that the tower be shorter than the 125 feet the ordinance allows.
“But we also want it very well camouflaged and as authentic as possible,” he said. “We’re satisfied with a well-camouflaged tree in lieu of a shorter tower.”