Altamont cell-tower hearing remains open

— From Enterprise Consulting Services
A “monopine,” a cell tower made to look like a pine tree to blend in with its surroundings, conspicuously dwarfs its surrounding in this Phtoshopped view from Main Street.

— From Enterprise Consulting Services
A 120-foot monopole telecommunications tower is visible above the trees, facing west on Altamont’s Main Street in this Photoshopped picture, based on a recent balloon test.

ALTAMONT — At the the Jan. 28 planning board meeting, board members got a look at what the 120-foot monopole telecommunications tower Enterprise Consulting Services is proposing to be erected on village-owned property on Agawam Lane would look like in winter.

Also this week, Jacqueline Phillips Murray, the lawyer for Enterprise Consulting Services, said that the county referral came back as a local decision, meaning that the village planning board will decide on the proposed tower without Albany County overview.

Last month, the planning board elected to keep open the public-comment period for the proposed tower, saying that the 11 days the proposal was available for public view was not enough time for residents to weigh in on the project.

During the public hearing on Monday, residents expressed concerns over the proposed tower’s safety, height, aesthetics, and the balloon float.

In addition, the board had asked ECS to perform a second “balloon float” test after residents who live close to the proposed tower said they had not been notified of the first balloon float, which took place in September, when the trees had leaves. Residents asked that another test be performed so that they could see what the tower would look like in winter.

For the test, a red weather balloon approximately 3 feet in diameter was floated 120 feet into the air; then pictures were taken of the balloon from various points around the village; and then a cell-phone tower — as well as a cell tower masked to look like a pine tree — were photoshopped into the picture to give an accurate representation of what the tower would look like from those spots around the village.

The photoshopped pictures can be viewed on the village’s website as well as The Enterprise website.

On Monday, the board again elected to keep open the public-comment period so that:

— Residents would be able to view the new pictures from the second balloon float;

— A report that calculates a worst-case scenario for exposure to radiofrequency waves, a type of radiation, can be reviewed;

— The site plan can be updated; and,

— The proposed tower’s decommissioning plan can be clarified.  

Brad Grant, from Barton and Loguidice, the village’s engineers, also recommended that the village enter into a “hold harmless” agreement with ECS, which would free the village from liability if something were to happen to ECS equipment.

Earlier in the meeting, Grant observed that the monopine looked taller than a traditional cell tower. Murray said that monopines had to be made about 10 feet taller than a traditional cell tower so that they can taper like a natural pine tree.

Planning board member Deborah Hext said that, if approved and with the exception of the monopine, she’d like to see the maximum height of the tower be no greater than 120 feet tall. Murray told her that ECS had the ability to add another 20 feet to the tower without having to come back to the planning board for a special-use permit.

Tom Capuano, who lives just outside the village, asked during the public-comment session if the new photoshopped pictures depicted the cell tower with a height of 140 feet; they did not. Later in the meeting, Wilford said he wouldn’t ask ECS for another set of photos showing the tower at 140 feet.

Altamont resident Kristin Casey asked why, when the agreement was signed by the village and ECS five years ago, hadn’t the proposal been subject to a State Environmental Quality Review or the special-use permitting process (to get built, the proposed tower needs a special-use permit from the planning board).

In an email answering Enterprise questions, Mayor Kerry Dineen wrote of the State Environmental Quality Review and special-use permitting process: “SEQRA was not required for this action. Our discussion in 2013 centered around leasing Village owned land to ECS for a permitted use per Village code.  The discussion included requiring the project to go through a thorough Planning Board process which includes public comment. SEQRA is an important part of that Planning Board process. All special use permits are applied for and determined by the planning board. A land lease agreement does not have that requirement.”

Casey also brought up the compensation the village would be receiving from ECS for allowing the company to erect the tower on village-owned property. The village doesn’t receive any money from ECS until the tower is built.

“I did do a Freedom of Information Act request to find out how much money we’re talking about,” Casey said. “[The request] came back this morning saying, ‘The village does not have any records pertaining to this matter,’ which seems a little odd because you would think since there’s already a contract.”

Last month, The Enterprise reviewed the land-lease agreement between the village and ECS but the compensation was redacted. This week, the Enterprise filed a Freedom of Information Law request for an unredacted copy of the agreement.  

After the public-comment session ended, Wilford responded to Casey’s inquiry about compensation: “I’m not going to speak for the village board. And, as far as the contract and the money that they made, to be frank, it is completely irrelevant in the process of this application. I would like to know how much money they get too. But that’s not the seat I’m sitting in today. The seat I’m sitting in today deals with the application. It doesn’t help us make the judgment because we can’t base our judgement on a financial or nonfinancial gain. I’m not interested in what [the village] makes, and I’m not interested if they don’t make it. I’m interested in the applicant’s process.”

Bill Biscone, of ECS, told The Enterprise what his company pays the village is proprietary information, but added that Altamont would receive a percentage of the revenue ECS receives from cell carriers.

In 2013, Biscone had told The Enterprise that the village would receive about $7,000 per year per carrier but would not confirm that number this week.

Ruth White, a village resident, expressed her concern about the health effects associated with cell towers, citing Larry Malerba’s letter to the editor in last week’s Enterprise.

Later in the hearing, addressing White’s health concerns, Wilford said, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 says Altamont cannot reject the project based on the radiofrequency — radiation — emitted from the tower. “That’s the part that we have addressed a couple of times,” he said, but, “it doesn’t stop us from researching and finding out where we lie.”



More Guilderland News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.