News Feature

Web exclusive, August 19, 2010
Brooksville to vote on cell tower moratorium

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by Jonathan Thomas

In the run-up to the special town meeting to be held on Monday, August 30, Brooksville residents will gather on Thursday evening, August 19, for a hearing on a proposed moratorium ordinance on cell towers, and two other questions.

News that a cell tower was being planned near the town athletic field on the Town House Road prompted a neighborhood petition that led to the selectmen’s actions to put the question of a cell tower moratorium before the voters. (See August 5 and 12 issues of The Packet.)

At press time it was uncertain whether a town meeting vote to enact a six-month moratorium would prevent the proposed tower from being built. The site is on land owned by Selectman Richard Bakeman, with access over land owned by Basil Ladd across the street from the ball field.

The Packet contacted Blaine Hopkins, area representative of Global Tower Partners, on August 17. Hopkins said he did not have a copy of the proposed text of the moratorium ordinance, and had not yet sought a legal opinion on whether the moratorium would prohibit the company from proceeding if it were enacted on the 30th.

Hopkins said, however, that “in all likelihood, if the moratorium were passed, the company would just move on and come back [at a later time.]” He said the company seeks a good relationship with the town and would respect its wishes. Hopkins said he would be at the August 19 hearing.

When asked about the site work that neighbors reported seeing on the Bakeman property in the last few days, Hopkins said that soils engineers were indeed doing test borings for use in designing the tower foundation. He explained that the work had been scheduled six weeks earlier, before the public controversy developed. Hopkins said that his company did not want to break its contract with the testing company, even though it could be losing $3,000 if the project were changed.

In talking about the benefits of the project, Hopkins said that rural areas such as Brooksville need the cell phone service, as well as the accompanying wireless broadband service that the proposed tower would provide. He said that he had a radio frequency propagation map showing that 95 percent of Brooksville would be fully served by the tower. All areas would have cell phone service, but some of the valleys might not have broadband Internet service.

Hopkins said that if his company were able to proceed, the new tower would be in place and operating by the end of the year. He added that if this tower is built, it is unlikely that another such tower would be built in town. As previously reported, the primary tenant on the tower would be AT&T, but it is designed to hold antennas for three other cell phone companies.

The moratorium ordinance

Selectman John Gray said August 17 that the selectmen would not be finalizing the wording of the moratorium until the board’s meeting on August 18. Resident Kerry Brokaw, who organized the petition opposing the tower, has asked that the board modify section 8 of the ordinance, which specifies the effective date and applicability of the moratorium.

Brokaw told The Packet that she would like to have the wording changed to more clearly block the tower that is now planned on the Bakeman lot. Gray said he is not sure that it is possible to do that.

Maine law empowers and limits municipalities in their ability to enact moratorium ordinances under Title 30-A, Section 4356. The time at which a moratorium becomes effective for an application that may be considered pending is defined by Title 1, Section 302.

A moratorium that has been enacted is effective for 180 days, giving a town time to prepare and enact a new ordinance that would regulate the activity curtailed by the moratorium.

If a town needs more than 180 days to prepare and enact its regulatory ordinance, the selectmen are empowered to extend the moratorium for an additional 180 days—but no longer—following a public hearing.

Special town meeting

As stated in the warrant, the August 30 town meeting will begin at 10 a.m. at the Public Service Building. The first article calls for the election of the moderator. The remaining three articles are considered referendum questions and will be voted on by secret ballot, with the polls closing at 6 p.m. Absentee ballots are available from the town clerk.

There will be no public discussion of the articles as is done in an open town meeting. The August 19 public hearing is meant to provide the opportunity for such discussion and questioning of town officials.

Article 2 is a vote on the commercial communications tower moratorium ordinance itself. Articles 3 and 4 would direct the Ordinance Review Committee to write ordinances, applicable to communications towers and wind-turbine towers respectively, and present them for consideration at a later unspecified date.

Article 3 would have the committee prepare a commercial communications tower ordinance, just as that committee would do if the moratorium in article 2 passes. The difference is that there is no time constraint on the development of an ordinance, and no prohibition against building a tower before the ordinance is adopted.

Gray said that if both articles 2 and 3 were to pass, article 3 would be redundant because article 2 directs the committee to prepare a commercial communications tower ordinance while the moratorium is in effect.

Article 4 would have the Ordinance Review Committee prepare an industrial wind and turbine ordinance. There would be no time limit on the committee’s work, and, since there would be no moratorium in effect, a wind turbine could be built before the turbine ordinance is presented and voted on by the town.

The town’s Ordinance Review Committee was established by an ordinance enacted at a special town meeting in 2005, according to Gray. The committee consists of members of the planning board and comprehensive plan committee, “sitting together as a joint committee.”