2018-04-06 / Front Page

Verizon has sights set on tower location

Telecommunications company picks sanitary district site on Black Point Road
By Grant McPherson Staff Writer

The view from across Scarborough Marsh shows the proposed location of a telecommunications tower at the Scarborough Sanitary District (background). A balloon test scheduled for Saturday, March 31, which would have demonstrated how high the proposed tower would be, was cancelled due to wind. Officials said it will be rescheduled. In its application to the town, Verizon said the tower is necessary to fill gaps in service coverage, but some residents are concerned the location will have a negative impact on the wildlife and Scarborough Marsh. (Courtesy photo)The view from across Scarborough Marsh shows the proposed location of a telecommunications tower at the Scarborough Sanitary District (background). A balloon test scheduled for Saturday, March 31, which would have demonstrated how high the proposed tower would be, was cancelled due to wind. Officials said it will be rescheduled. In its application to the town, Verizon said the tower is necessary to fill gaps in service coverage, but some residents are concerned the location will have a negative impact on the wildlife and Scarborough Marsh. (Courtesy photo)
Residents and visitors in southeast Scarborough might stop asking, “Can you hear me now?” if a new cell tower off Black Point Road is approved, but so far community members haven’t heard why the proposed location is the only option.

According to a January report from C Squared Systems, LLC, a national wireless network company with offices in Auburn, New Hampshire, Verizon Wireless must continue to expand its coverage of fourth generation voice and data services in compliance with Federal Communications Commission regulations.

In order to meet this standard, Verizon has selected the Scarborough Sanitary District at 415 Black Point Road as the site for a new 100-foot monopole and 50- by-50 foot fenced compound. The new telecommunications tower would be expected to improve cell service along Black Point Road south of Val Terrace, Spurwink Road, Scarborough Beach State Park, Prouts Neck Golf Course and Country Club and the Prouts Neck community.

Verizon planned to float a balloon in the location of the proposed tower on Saturday, March 31 to give community members an opportunity to see what the view around the marsh would be like if the tower were built. However, the test was cancelled due to wind. As of Tuesday, the test had yet to be rescheduled. The balloon will be flown at the same height as the proposed tower.

In a letter submitted to the planning board on Feb. 26, Scott Anderson of Verrill Dana wrote on behalf of Verizon Wireless in response to concerns from planning board members that other location options should be explored. He wrote that Verizon designated a search ring in which it looked for space to build or colocate a new tower to expand its service.

“New telecommunication facilities opportunities are nonexistent in or near the search ring,” Anderson wrote. “In other words, there are no existing buildings or structures in or near the search area upon which (Verizon) could colocate its equipment.”

Lucy Lacasse, Scarborough resident living off Black Point Road and Prouts Neck Association member, said coverage where she lives is fine and people living in the area didn’t ask for a new tower to be built.

“The negative impact on the town’s natural resources and the negative visual impact on Scarborough’s prized natural resource far outweigh the modest benefit for a small number of year-round residents and seasonal visitors to Prouts Neck,” Lacasse said. “We are happy to work with the town and Verizon to find an alternative solution but we do not want to compromise Scarborough’s greatest asset.”

The town planning office has about 50 letters and emails on file from residents, most of them opposed to the tower, while some concede that cell coverage along Black Point Road and Prouts Neck could be improved.

Susan Gallo, a Maine Audubon wildlife biologist, said the greater Scarborough Marsh area, Higgins Beach and Scarborough Beach are all important sites for migratory birds. She said cell towers in the past have been shown to distract certain migratory birds, especially at night and the birds can end up circling the towers for hours due to the light and drop dead from exhaustion or collide with the tower.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a best practice guideline for communication towers and a couple things really resonated with us,” Gallo said. “The first is placement. They say select an already degraded site and don’t put them in areas near wetlands. So that’s definitely a red flag for us. The other issue in terms of best practice is colocation. The fire station up the road has a U.S. Cellular tower just under a half-mile away. From a wildlife perspective, the best option is not to add another tower but look for a place to put it on an existing structure.”

Cory Fellows, chairman of the planning board, said nothing has been finalized yet.

“It is a very, by design, deliberative process that requires any applicant to really try to make their case that they’ve met all the criteria for the siting of a tower at any given location,” Fellows said. “All I can say at this point is the process is ongoing. We’ve had one meeting with them and a public hearing and certainly the balloon float factors into that as well. I don’t think there’s an expectation this is going to be completed any time in the immediate future, particularly now that the balloon float has been postponed. The applicant has been through this process before and understands the importance of being thorough. The town will take its time on this and needs to really do its homework.

“Everyone has their own opinions about coverage and that makes it a uniquely challenging issue. Different people have different expectations for coverage and what they consider adequate. The ordinance was crafted in an attempt to try to address the tension between wanting to improve coverage around town and protect our resources in a rational and proactive way.”

Staff Writer Grant McPherson can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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