December 21, 2013

Proposed cell tower faces stiff opposition in Rome

A cell tower company says the 190-foot tower is needed to provide good service to Rome’s cellphone users, but environmental groups say the tower will threaten the area’s scenic views.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

ROME — A key vote in a yearlong battle about a proposed cell tower in Rome will take place soon, town leaders said.

Environmental groups say the tower will ruin the view, while the applying company says it is needed to provide better reception to residents.

It’s been more than a year since the town’s Planning Board first received an application for a 190-foot tower on privately owned land on a ridge known as The Mountain, which is between Route 27 and Great Pond in a small community known for its scenic views and recreational opportunities.

The town also is known for something else, according to Blaine Hopkins, a representative of Global Tower Partners, which applied for the tower.

“From about the time you hit the Belgrade town line all the way up to where we want to put the tower, service is virtually nonexistent,” he said. “You’ll find some, but it goes in and out. It’s spotty.”

Global Towers was founded in 2002 and is now owned by American Tower, which Hopkins called one of the largest tower companies in the world. Hopkins said he doesn’t know how many people the company employs in Maine.

If built, the tower could be used by multiple cellphone providers, such as Sprint and U.S. Cellular.

Over the past 17 years, Hopkins said, he’s been involved with building about 750 towers. In that time, fewer than 10 proposed towers were rejected, he said.

This particular cell tower is different, according to environmental advocates. For a tourism-dependent town that relies on the attractiveness of its natural resources, they say, the tower site is too visible from too many vantage points.

“Not everyone wants to come to a quaint little village and in your face is a big cell tower,” said Gail Rizzo, president of the Belgrade Lakes Association.

The group hasn’t taken an official stance on the tower, but she said the proposal threatens the visual splendor for people on the Kennebec Highlands, Blueberry Hill, French Mountain, Long Pond and Great Pond.

“That’s the economic engine in our area,” she said. “The Belgrade Lakes region relies on the hiking, the biking, the water activities.”

Hopkins said the cell tower is a necessary part of modern living.

“Is a cell tower pretty?” he said. “No. If you have no service, is that pretty? No.”

Leaders deliberate; charges traded as town leaders deliberate

Since the application was first submitted to the Planning Board, the contentious issue has resulted in a war of words and piles of paperwork, according to Denny Phillips, board co-chairman, who recused himself from the issue during a contentious four-hour meeting earlier this month.

The application submitted by Global Towers was hundreds of pages long, Phillips said, and the board also has received position statements and letters from about a dozen area business owners, residents and environmental groups. The Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance commissioned a visual impact study from Portland-based DeWan & Associates, which generated pictures of the landscape from various vantage points with a simulated image of the tower added in.

The town also has spent $8,500 on an independent consultant to study the issue, at Global Towers’ expense.

Phillips opposes the tower. He said he doesn’t believe there is a lack of service.

“They presented it as if there’s this need for coverage in the area, and there isn’t,” he said. “Nobody here is complaining about coverage.”

The company has accused several board members of being biased because of their membership in the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, which has been outspoken against the tower.

“Four of the Planning Board members are members of the BRCA, and the BRCA has been perhaps our major opposition to the project,” Hopkins said.

(Continued on page 2)

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