Knox board receptive to cell tower some object

KNOX — Despite protest from some residents and a local land conservancy, the Knox Town Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to remove a piece of the town’s property from a land conservation district. 

In recent months, the board has discussed siting a 195-foot cellular tower on the town-owned property along Street Road and using the land to expand the town’s transfer station, which is adjacent to the property.  The board has also considered a site at Town Hall, also owned by the town, for a cellular tower.

On Tuesday, Councilman Dennis Decker said the town changed its zoning in the 1980s to allow the construction of a house. 

“It can be done.  It has been done.  We didn’t set a precedent,” said Decker.

Resident Jeff Cole, who lives across from the Street Road site, asked officials numerous questions, including: “Whose idea was it for the cell tower?”

Supervisor Michael Hammond said it was “need-driven to begin with — that cell coverage has not been ‘stellar’ to use a word.”

The town would benefit by increased cell coverage and, “at the same time,” enjoy a revenue stream “so that all the people in the town could enjoy the benefits of that,” Hammond said.

On Tuesday, Daniel Driscoll recommended the board only rezone about one acre for the expansion of the town’s transfer station. 

“Chances are that’s all we’re going to be using,” said Hammond.  “And it won’t be causing any kind of contamination.”

Driscoll is a long-time member of Knox’s planning board and a founder of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, which has a preserve near the site.  Peggy Sherman, the president of MHLC sent a letter to the town board, protesting the zoning change.  Driscoll said on Tuesday he was speaking as the principal editor of the Helderberg Escarpment Planning Guide.

“The transfer station is several hundred feet uphill from a stream — an unnamed stream that goes into the Bozenkill — which then goes to the [Watervliet Reservoir],” said Driscoll.  The Watervliet Reservoir provides drinking water for the town of Guilderland and the city of Watervliet.  “Any work done at the transfer station,” Driscoll said, “you should be very careful that any run-off doesn’t flow into the unnamed stream.”

Before the town board closed the hearing, Driscoll requested that “the record remain open for 24 hours to receive written comments from interested citizens.”

The board did not honor his request. 

Residents on water

At Tuesday’s hearing, residents echoed Driscoll, concerned a cell tower or the expansion of the town’s transfer station would contaminate their water.  Residents who live next to the property had been notified of the hearing through a letter sent by the town, Hammond said.  Some at the hearing said some on Street Road had not been notified.  One resident said a neighbor told him of the hearing.  Hammond said one letter was returned. 

Marilynn West, who lives near the site at 100 Street Road, said, “My main concern is my well.  I don’t see why we need to construct a tower that could contaminate all of our well water.”

Hammond said he had visited Middleburgh and Richmondville, towns that have towers.  He said cell towers have to have a standby generator, and that the town will make an agreement that it can’t be diesel- or gasoline-run and will be contained in a modular building.  Robert Price, the longtime chairman of Knox’s planning board, said that a generator would be run by propane.

“Anything that comes in or out of that can be controlled,” Hammond said, adding “You’re not going to get any kind of groundwater contamination.” 

He said of a tower’s aesthetics, “We all know that a tower is a tower.  And you will see it.  There’s no two ways about it.”

Laurel Tormey Cole, who lives at 99 Street Road, across from the transfer station, cited an analysis by six of the seven members of the planning board.  She said, “A lot of that area isn’t even under soil.  The limestone pavement is right at the surface.  Limestone pavement is known for its dissolution cracks and many of those cracks can go many feet down into the ground.”

Tormey Cole said, “Stripping the vegetation to permit construction on a cell tower, the storage of fuel for back-up generation for the cell tower operation, and servicing of the cell tower have potential to cause significant pollution of the groundwater that would threaten wells along Street Road.  There is an issue about whether the transfer station expansion might pose a similar threat.”

At the hearing, Tormey Cole requested a copy of the town’s cellular tower ordinance.  The ordinance was drafted last year by members of the planning board and regulates the placement of towers.  Tormey Cole said she had visited the town’s website days before the public hearing and could not access cellular tower information.  The town uploaded photographs taken from various locations in the town with computer-generated towers superimposed on the vistas. 

Tormey Cole cited findings by the College of Agriculture and Life Science from Cornell University, and said, “A plume can travel a long way as the groundwater moves to its discharge point.”

Once contaminated, Tormey Cole said, groundwater is very slow to return to its prior uncontaminated condition; preventing contamination is the best protection for groundwater.   

“I completely agree with what she said,” said Deborah Liddle, Knox’s court clerk.  Liddle lives on Middle Road, near the Street Road site.  “It took me two years to get good water up there, and I would hate to see anything happen to that at this point,” she said.  “I do agree that we do need cell tower service in the area, but I just don’t think that’s an ideal spot for it.”

Allen Meyers, who lives at 74 Street Road, said his main concern is with seeing a tower.  There are a lot of “ifs, a lot of possibilities,” Meyers said, because of the water and because of what could happen down the road. 

“It’s a pretty risky chance to take on Street Road,” he said,  “And then there’s no turning back.”

A 195-foot tower, he said, “would be part of the landscape for years to come.”

Meyers said of the MHLC’s Hudson and Nancy Winn Preserve, “Never been to the area mentioned, but, living there over the years, a lot of people visit the site.  It must be nice in there, but a cell tower isn’t nice.  Maybe, if it was built by beavers.”

“Being in the business for 36 years, building and concrete construction, I know what you could run into,” Meyers said, adding that there are crevices throughout the site and that a project could result in paint run-off, rust run-off, and concrete eating through steel. 

“They tell us now that phones may not be safe to use,” Meyers said.  “The tower is at the other end of that phone.  I don’t think it’s the plastic they’re talking about.”

Viscio on water

Councilman Nicholas Viscio said, “I am very aware of the way the geology works in this town…We’re really just not looking at the whole picture here and that picture is relative to what we’re considering — the escarpment.” 

“All of the limestone in this town dips or is slanted to the southwest at approximately 20 degrees,” he said.  “Every house in this town has a drilled well of some sort,” Viscio said.  If a spill occurs at the town park, the other proposed site, he said, it’s going to contaminate more houses in the hamlet, which is a far more densely populated area than at Street Road.

“I came to Knox because I was caving…and I appreciate the caves and the natural history of what karst features are.”

“Quite frankly,” Viscio said, “when it comes to karst features in this town and the preservation of our precious water, Albany County Health Department has got to do a lot more than they’re doing right now…because we’re concerned about a tower being placed on solid bedrock here that’s not going to put out a single effluent.”

Board on cell tower

Councilwoman Mary Ellen Nagengast said, “From a safety standpoint, every parent that I’ve talked to is a proponent of a cell tower, just for safety purposes.”

Councilwoman Patricia Gage said she thinks the board needs to look carefully at how a tower is constructed to hurt the least amount of people.  “No matter where it goes, somebody is going to get some effect from it,” said Gage.

“Cell towers are going to happen here,” said Viscio.  He had said earlier that he was, initially, “in total opposition” to a cellular tower being sited on Street Road.  “And this is, likely, not going to be the last cell tower in town,” Viscio said.  “We’re going to have one or two more.”

Viscio said he started hearing from a lot of people in town that they want a tower in town because they want cell coverage.  “There’s a big safety factor here,” Viscio said.  “That’s what I’ve been hearing from most people.”

After the hearing, Hammond said, when the tower is built, the road leading to the MHLC’s preserve will be kept “in the same, original condition.”

“Are you telling us that you’ve made your decision, and that it’s going up on Street Road?” Tormey Cole asked. 

“It sure sounds like it.  You’re convinced,” said Jeff Cole.

“I am,” Hammond said. 

Hammond continued, outlining specifications of a tower, including its color and an 80-foot-by-80-foot fence to be placed around the tower and cedar trees to mask the fence.  

Following the hearing, the town board held its regular meeting.  Near its end, after most residents had filed out of the hall, the Town Board voted unanimously for Hammond to sign an Environmental Assessment Form, issuing a negative declaration.  A negative declaration means there will not be significant environmental impacts.  An EAF is a requirement of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation for proposals. 

Acting on the advice of John Dorfman, the town’s attorney, the board voted a second time on the resolution to remove the town’s property from the conservation district. 

In other business, the town board:

— Awarded a bid to Robert S. Green Chevrolet Oldsmobile Inc. in Rock Hill (Sullivan County) for a new highway truck.  The truck will cost Knox $27,229 after it trades in a Ford pickup.  Gary Salisbury, Knox’s highway superintendent was unsure whether the truck would arrive within a month. 

The board voted unanimously to authorize Hammond to pay for the truck out of the town’s highway fund once it is delivered and voted unanimously to authorize Salisbury to buy a plow for the truck at a cost not to exceed $5,000. 

Salisbury and the board have also discussed equipping the truck with a sander.  Salisbury said a sander is not available at state contract prices;

— Heard from Hammond that he met with the state’s Department of Transportation in Schenectady on Feb. 28.  This summer, the DOT, Hammond said, will rip up three inches of Route 156 and lay five-and-a-half to six inches of new blacktop between the village of Altamont and the Knox hamlet. 

“There is no date on that, but it is going to definitely be happening,” he said.  “The road is in such a deplorable condition that something needs to be done now”;

— Heard from Hammond that he had spoken with Louis Saddlemire, the town’s parks superintendent, about road work that needs to be done in the Knox Cemetery.  Hammond said the center hump of the road needs to be flattened and, possibly, some shale needs to be laid down.  “Nothing expensive at all,” Hammond said;

— Appointed Joycelyn Farrar to the board of assessment review to fill the unexpired portion of Robert Whipple’s term.  Farrar served on the board in the 1980s.  Whipple died last year; and

— Authorized Hammond to transfer $70,000 from the town’s general fund to its building capital reserve fund. 

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