ENOSBURGH — A Massachusetts company’s plan to build a telecommunications tower in an Enosburgh neighborhood has divided residents there, with some saying it should be located elsewhere, and others maintaining that it’s vital to improve public safety.
Industrial Tower and Wireless wants to put up a roughly 150-foot-tall lattice tower at a farm on Bordoville Road that would provide two-way radio communication, according to planning documents. In the future, the structure also could host antennas for cellular service.
Dozens of people attended a public meeting Wednesday held by the town’s selectboard and planning commission to discuss the project. Several local residents raised concerns, which company representatives refuted, that radiation from the tower would pose a risk to their health.
Town officials said they can issue comments to the state’s Public Utility Commission about the proposal, but local zoning regulations do not apply. The commission has not yet made a decision about the project and is accepting comments through July 12.
Industrial Tower and Wireless said in planning documents the proposed steel tower will bolster access to its radio communication network — and possibly to service from cellphone carriers in the future — for people who live and work in West Enosburgh.
The nearest telecommunications towers are 5 and 6.5 miles away, filings show, which the company says are both too far away to serve the area targeted by their proposal. It also says the area’s mountainous topography limits the distance a signal can travel.
Plans also call for an 80-by-80-foot concrete base around the tower that would include an equipment cabinet and be enclosed by an 8-foot-tall, chain link fence.
The tower would be built in an existing, undeveloped clearing on the farm, and access to the site would be along an existing trail into the clearing, the plans state.
Several local residents — including Pippa Dorfman, who said her house would be about 500 feet from the tower — expressed concerns Wednesday about the possible health effects of increased exposure to radio-frequency radiation from the structure.
Exposure to radio-frequency radiation from living near a cell phone tower is typically many times lower than it is from using a cellphone, according to the American Cancer Society. The organization says there’s no strong evidence that exposure to radiofrequency waves causes any significant health effects, but it concludes that more research is needed.
Dorfman said she does not “want my children to be the study.” Tara Lombardi, who lives on Bordoville Road, said she doesn’t want local kids “to be part of an experiment.”
In testimony filed with the state commission and at Wednesday’s meeting, Don Haes, a radiation safety specialist, said he estimates the maximum possible radiation exposure at all publicly accessible areas around the tower would be about 5.5% of the limit that the Federal Communications Commission allows for the public.
That estimate includes radiation from five antenna arrays for cellphone carriers, he said, on top of the radio network that’s already planned.
“It is my expert opinion that this facility, even if it were to be built to its design capacity, would comply with all regulatory guidelines,” Haes said in written testimony.
Dorfman agrees that Enosburgh needs better connectivity, whether that’s for radios or cellphones, but doesn’t think the tower should be so close to people’s homes.
Some local residents also said they’re concerned the tower’s presence will bring more traffic to Bordoville Road and ultimately lower their property values.
“If you really think about all the undeveloped, rural Vermont areas, why do we have to choose this one spot, smack dab in the middle of Bordoville?” Sandra Bruhn, who lives up the street from the proposed tower site, said at the meeting Wednesday.
Brian Sullivan, a Burlington-based lawyer representing Industrial Tower and Wireless, declined to answer questions about the project when contacted by VTDigger.
Bordoville Road is less than a mile long and runs between Route 108 and Chester Arthur Road in the southwestern corner of Enosburgh. The road is narrow and unpaved.
Residents also disputed a consultant’s finding, submitted to the state, that the proposed tower would have no adverse effects, either directly or indirectly, on historic properties.
Bruhn argued that the presence of the tower “interferes with the historical nature” of the neighborhood, pointing to a 160-plus-year-old church that’s at one end of the street.
Still, several Bordoville Road residents and local business owners spoke in favor of the tower proposal, and how it could eventually provide cell service.
Katherine Bennett, who owns land that would be adjacent to the tower, recalled a time her father was hit by a car while crossing Route 108 in his four-wheeler. The person who found him had to leave his side and find a landline to call 911, Bennett said.
She also said the tower would make it much easier to connect with customers at her local business on the phone from home, which can be a challenge now.
“We strongly feel that this project is an important step in bringing equity and opportunities, and greatly needed infrastructure, to and within our corner of the community,” Bennett said at Wednesday’s meeting. “This tower will be a step towards bridging the gap.”
Matthew Hull, who owns the land where the tower would be built, was at the meeting but did not comment. He declined to speak with a reporter afterward.
Hull’s brother, Eric Hull, did speak at the meeting. He said over the course of his 15 years on the fire department in Bakersfield — the border of which is less than half a mile from Bordoville Road — “not a single day went by” without communication issues.
Eric Hull said he, too, has children who would grow up near the tower, but he is most concerned by the possibility they could have trouble contacting first responders in the event of an emergency.
“As an adjoining landowner,” he said, “I believe that there are benefits to this that the town has to realize as well.”
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