ANCRAM–While most people here agree they want reliable cell phone service in southeastern Columbia County, they do not agree on the placement of the cell towers that will make that service a reality.
AT&T has submitted a proposal to town officials in Ancram to build a 250-foot cell tower on the same property as the Town Hall at 1416 County Route 7. But the town can still choose to negotiate with another firm to develop and manage a cell tower on municipal property. The town would maintain ownership of the tower and get paid by cell service providers, including AT&T, who rent space on the tower.
After speaking to Doug Migliacco, a site acquisition specialist with Pyramid Network Services, LLC, an agent for AT&T, Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin, who has been keeping people updated on cell phone service news via email over the past couple of weeks, wrote that AT&T’s preferred choice for a site in Ancram was on high ground along the east side of Doodletown Road, but that no landowners in “that target location” were willing to lease their land to AT&T for a tower.
“The beauty” of a cell tower on Doodletown Road is that the tower height would be under 150 feet, Mr. Bassin said by phone March 16. The town’s Local Law on cell towers prohibits towers taller than 199 feet.
The Town Hall and the Ancram firehouse on County Route 7 at the Route 82 intersection are both alternative sites that will meet AT&T’s location objectives, but the height of the cell towers built at either site would have to be greater than allowed by law. Sites on Poole Hill and Hall Hill roads are too far south the meet AT&T’s needs.
Mr. Bassin said that the Board of Fire Commissioners has determined that the firehouse site does not have enough space to support a cell tower. The supervisor also said he has received about a half dozen emails from residents who “do not think it is appropriate to put a 250-foot tower in the middle of the hamlet,” even if the law allowed it.
“Everybody wants a cell tower, they just don’t want something that big in the middle of the hamlet,” Mr. Bassin said.
One such email came from Jennifer Berne Nickerson, an Ancram resident and homeowner for 33 years, who wrote, “I think our search for cell phone reception has taken a very wrong turn.”
Noting that the proposed cell tower could be as high as “a 25-story skyscraper,” Ms. Nickerson wrote, “We could be inviting into our midst a giant, looming behemoth that would dwarf the town…chasing away homeowners, home buyers and businesses (current and future) and lowering property values for miles around.”
Also weighing in on the cell tower proposal was the town’s newly formed Conservation Advisory Council (CAC).
Citing a wide range of mixed evidence–from studies finding “no detectable hazards from cell towers” to those finding “the possibility of significant hazards,” the council said, “the primary concern from a health perspective is exposure to electromagnetic radiation.”
The council noted that the Federal Communications Commission, which is responsible for regulating hazards from cell towers and cell phones, relies on the Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies to answer questions about towers and phones. Because no definitive findings about health hazards have yet been produced by these agencies, the FCC relies on 20- to 30-year-old data limited to overheating from the non-ionizing radiation emitted by these communications systems. Since local governments can only base their regulations on FCC regulations, more recent health concerns cannot be considered, the council wrote.
In its recommendations, the council said that the town should adhere to its own local law on cell towers and follow all zoning and permitting processes. The council also cited “the Precautionary Principle,” suggesting that because cell towers may threaten the health of people or the environment, town officials should take precautionary measures even though cause and effect relationships have not been fully established scientifically.
In his email comments on the cell tower issue, town resident Tom Ditto called into question reference materials cited by the CAC, describing them as outdated, not authoritative and unbalanced.
“The claim in one of the cited references that cell phones use frequencies essentially the same as microwave ovens is both false and alarmist. Wireless computer networking (WiFi) uses those frequencies, because that particular radio band is deemed useless for broadcast due to absorption on the atmosphere,” Mr. Ditto wrote.
He went on to note that cell phone handsets rather than cell towers represent more of a biological threat if the CAC’s references are to be taken seriously.
“Given the use of wireless communications in emergencies, the safety issues are statistically in favor of having cell phone service available in rural areas,” Mr. Ditto wrote, adding that “an Ancram tower is recommended.”
Another voice in favor of an Ancram cell tower comes from Bob Roth, the Ancram resident and committee of one who has been working for three years to get cell service providers to bring service to the county’s southeast corner.
“AT&T doesn’t need us, we need them,” Mr. Roth said by phone March 16.
Working through local legislators, Mr. Roth finally succeeded in getting a commitment from AT&T to build a tower in Ancram, while “Verizon did not give me an inch of time.”
Mr. Roth said that he is “desperately concerned” about local fire and rescue personnel being unable to communicate in an emergency due to “dead zones” or areas where cell phones do not work because they cannot get service.
Mr. Roth said he plans to speak to the board to try to resolve issues that may stand in the way of making a cell tower in Ancram a reality.
At the Copake Town Board’s March 13 meeting, Supervisor Reggie Crowley said that none of the municipal sites in Copake suggested as possible places for a cell tower fit AT&T’s site needs.
But the supervisor said that AT&T is in “serious negotiations” with a private landowner to build a tower somewhere in Copake. Mr. Crowley said he does not know where the site is, and AT&T will not discuss it.
“The primary goal is to get cell service. I don’t want to slam the door” on that possibility just because the tower will not be built on municipal land, said the supervisor,
A discussion about AT&T’s cell tower proposal was on the agenda for the March 18 Ancram Town Board meeting. Supervisor Bassin said he has requested additional information from AT&T about coverage patterns in Ancram and a photo of what a 250-foot tower would look like. He said the board will hold off on any decision on the matter for another month.