By Lisa Loomis
Fayston Select Board wants to query representatives of VTel about plans to construct a 90-foot tower on Bragg Hill. Specifically the board wants to discuss VTel's assertion that it must build a 90-foot telecommunications tower at an elevation of 2,000 feet versus co-locating on other nearby towers such as the one on Tucker Hill Road or the one at the top of the App Gap.
Select board member Jared Cadwell said that the board also wanted to explore with VTel their analysis of how currently underserved Fayston is in terms of the services VTel plans to offer via the tower and further discuss the fact that the Fayston Town Plan expressly prohibits telecommunications towers at the proposed elevation of 2,000 feet. Finally, Cadwell said, the board wants to discuss the proximity of a significant amount of conserved land near the proposed site and the potential that the tower would have a negative impact on that land.
On December 24, the town and abutters to property owned by Katherine Westhelle on High Country Road in Fayston received notification of plans by VTel to apply for permits to construct a 90-foot tower on Westhelle's lot. The land is part of a seven-lot subdivision created by the Westhelle family in 1998.
The notice of intent to file explains the proposal to construct the 90-foot tower with nine panel antennas ranging in size from 70 feet to 82 feet above ground level and two microwave dish antennas 1 by 2 feet and 1 by 4 feet in diameter.
The select board has already recommended that the Vermont Public Service Board not approve the project because the proposed location is in violation of the Fayston Town Plan which states "because of the likelihood of undue adverse scenic and environmental impacts to higher elevation lands, all new energy and telecommunications facilities –including residential wind towers, transmission and distribution lines, accessory structures and access roads –are prohibited above 1,700 feet elevation."
VTel is a Springfield-based Internet service provider that also provides cable, telephone and wireless service. The application notes that VTel has "insufficient wireless coverage in the town of Fayston." The maps submitted with the application show no existing VTel coverage in Waitsfield or Fayston other than the proposed coverage due to the new tower.
If the tower is built, VTel plans to offer wireless Internet services to homes and businesses in the area.
In addition to opposition from the town, abutters and others who own property in the subdivision where the Westhelle property is located are also in opposition. Some of those in the subdivision have hired attorney Paul Gillies and are prepared to file a civil suit to stop the construction of the tower. The covenants of the 1998 subdivision specifically prohibit any commercial uses of the lots and also prohibit devices for reception or transmission larger than 18 inches in circumference.
Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission has also filed a letter of opposition to the tower, noting that such a tower at that location "does not conform with the 2008 Central Vermont Regional Plan." That letter quotes the regional plan: "Telecommunication facilities should be sited, designed, maintained and operated so as to minimize negative impacts on natural, cultural and scenic resources. Use of stealth design and/or use of existing structures are encouraged where appropriate. The policies of the plan addressing ridgeline and hilltop development are intended to apply to telecommunication facilities."
By statute, the PSB has the authority to approve the location of telecommunication towers. The PSB will consider input from local towns and abutters as well as the policies of a town's Town Plan, but the board can overrule Town Plans and disregard the recommendations of the town and/or abutters.