Residents ask AT&T to find a different cell tower location

Residents opposed to installation of a cell phone tower on Eels Hill Road pleaded with AT&T representatives to look for alternate locations in commercial areas.

At the request of the Board of Aldermen, which is reviewing a lease agreement for the tower on city-owned property on Eels Hill Road, AT&T hosted a community meeting on July 10 at City Hall that was attended by about 30 residents and a number of aldermen.

The board may resume discussion of the lease at its Aug. 4 meeting, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. The aldermen tabled the proposal at its June meeting.

Residents will have the opportunity to voice their opinion on the matter at that time. Residents may also contact their aldermen in advance using the contact information on the city website:

City Attorney Jonathan D. Berchem opened the July 10 meeting by saying that state statutes require the Board of Aldermen to approve the lease agreement with AT&T before any further action can take place. Berchem said his office notified all neighbors within a set diameter of the tower, as required by state law.

“They [AT&T] want to hear from you, your questions and your concerns,” said Berchem. “The city has no official position on this.” He commented that if the tower were placed on city land, the city would have control over the tower.

Attorney Daniel Laub, who was representing AT&T, provided an overview of the project along with the process required to approve the proposed tower. AT&T would like to install a 135-ft. tall monopole antenna, adjacent to an existing 100-ft. tall monopole antenna on city-owned land on Eels Hill Rd.

The current antenna is used by Milford emergency services, including the police and fire department, but is too short to add AT&T’s cell phone equipment.

If the 135-ft. tower is approved and built, then the Milford equipment would be moved to the new tower, and the old tower would be removed. The tower would include room for other cell phone providers should they wish to lease space on it.

If the city approved the lease agreement, then AT&T would design the tower, and then go before the Connecticut Siting Council for final approval before constructing the tower.

AT&T would construct the tower, then give to the city, and then lease it back for a 25-year period.

The Planning and Zoning Board voted unanimously in favor of an 8-24 referral on the project at its Feb. 24 meeting. Such approval means the aldermen need only a simple majority to approve the lease agreement with AT&T.

Laub said when AT&T makes its presentation to the Siting Council, it will be asked what it did for a site search, including whether there was an existing tower and related infrastructure.

He presented a map showing AT&T’s existing coverage area and signal strength, saying that the I-95 corridor has good coverage, but further south toward the coast, signal strength and availability drops. Laub said AT&T projects a growth in wireless need from 1.5 extrabytes (EB) per month in 2013 to 4.4 EBs in 2015 and 16 EBs in 2018.

Laub said total radio emissions from the antenna would increase from the current 7.575% to 7.6 percent of the standards established by the Federal Communications Commission.

“We are not supposed to exceed 100 percent of that standard,” said Laub. “It is very, very low—under one-tenth of what is allowed by federal law. “WiFi in the home is generally 5 percent. This is not intended to be very powerful to broadcast long distances.”

Kelly Wade Bettuchi, director of external and government affairs for AT&T said this level is measured within the compound by pointing the antennas at the ground and having them transmit at full power.

Laub presented photo simulations of the existing and proposed antenna from various locations in Milford, showing some views from New Haven Avenue and Clark Hill Road, but no views from Cedarhust Lane at the Boston Post Road, or from Buckingham Avenue at Gulf Pond.

“One of the reasons we came to this site is that it seemed to make sense there would not be a lot of change,” said Laub.

Public Comments

The public comment portion of the meeting was a freewheeling session in which people called out from their seats, sometimes making comments overlapping those of the presenters or other residents. Residents expressed concern about potential health effects from radio emissions from the tower, the effect on property values, and safety concerns if the tower should fall.

Edward Vanchot of the 800 block of New Haven Avenue spoke extensively at the meeting, offering concerns about risk, liability and financial impact.

“Your problem is coverage. It does nothing for us. It only helps you. You are making it our problem. What do I care if your subscribers get disconnected?” said Vanchot.

Vanchot said the Eels Hill Road site has high winds, and that a tower at the site fell during Hurricane Irene. He said the tower could make it difficult for area homeowners to obtain FHA mortgages. He said the area gets more snow than the surrounding area and the city does not plow by the tower, making access difficult after a snowstorm. He also expressed concern about the length of the lease agreement.

Bettuchi responded by saying that a 25-year lease period is standard. With regard to safety, Bettuchi said the tower would be built to required safety standards. She said the site is monitored electronically at all times and maintenance takes place about once a month.

Bettuchi said AT&T would take care of plowing at the site. She said AT&T would require city permission to plow city streets to reach the tower property, as might be required following a heavy snowfall where city plows are overwhelmed.

Mary Gambardella of Shadows End Lane asked if AT&T had studied other possible locations. She said if the tower is too intrusive that AT&T should look elsewhere and suggested Research Drive as an option. Gambardella added that neighbors do not experience any reception problems in the area.

“If that tower comes down, it would come down God knows where,” said Gambardella.

Laub responded by saying that the state mandates limiting the proliferation of cell phone towers, hence the proposal for Eels Hill Road.

Bettuchi added to Laub’s remarks by saying, “Any given cell phone tower fills a gap in a certain radius. The tower has to be in the center of where the gap is. We look for available space in the area to fill the gap that is least invasive. If we see a tower, then go two streets over and build a new tower, then you have two towers.”

Bettuchi said when AT&T goes before the Siting Council, it has to present extensive documentation of all sites to show it selected the best area. Before it can make a presentation to the Siting Council, it needs a lease agreement.

Loeb said if AT&T proposed a tower on a nearby private parcel, the municipality would say, “‘Why not over here? We have an existing tower.’ We are asked tolook at existing towers.”

Dee Blackmer of Alpha Street said he cannot see the existing 100-ft. tall tower, but would be able to see the 135-ft. tall tower.

“You are destroying the home values,” said Blackmer. “If the existing tower fall, it will fall in my yard.”

Eric Fine, project manager for Northeast Communications, said the city asked him to evaluate the AT&T proposal for its effect on the city communications equipment on the tower.

“From our perspective, it is smarter for the city to support this and maintain control of the site, rather than get another tower,” said Fine.

Fine said the 100-ft. tower was built three years ago and that towers typically have a 30-year lifespan. Fine said the city’s equipment at the site has a seven to 10-year lifespan. He said the next generation of communications equipment would probably need more tower space.

“I have never had a problem getting up there after a big storm,” said Fine. “Somebody has been plowing the road.”

Fine said there are four towers on the site: the 100-ft. tall city tower, a federal tower that was used by the Coast Guard and is now used by the FBI, and two other smaller towers that are used by an amateur ham radio club.

Ellen Vanchot of the 800 block of New Haven Avenue expressed concern that she was not directly notified about the meeting, but found out about it when another resident came to her door. Vanchot questioned what health effects the tower would have on her three children. She said she has AT&T service, and has never had an issue with dropped calls.

Bettuchi distributed a one-page information sheet on potential health effects from cell phone towers. The information referenced studies from the FCC, the American Cancer Society, and the World Health Organization, all of which stated that there are no health concerns from cell phone towers.

“According to a report on cell sites, the ACS confirms that most scientists believe that cell sites and antennas are unlikely to cause cancer or result in heath problems.” This was on the information sheet from AT&T.

With regard to property values, Betttuchi mentioned a study from the National Association of Realtors, which showed that communities in high-speed broadband areas have a 6 percent higher property value.

Alex Murshtyn, site acquisition consultant for Centerline Communications, closed the meeting by saying, “We have considered many sites. This is the ideal alternative. There is a tower one mile to the west. It is too far away. We need a site half a mile away.”

Aldermen in attendance included Majority Leader Nick Veccharelli Jr. (D-2), Michael S. Casey (R-3), Chairman Philip J. Vetro (D-4), and Dora Kubek (D-5) and Bryan Anderson (D-5)