By Kimberly Morin
On Wednesday, the Bedford Town Council will once again be discussing whether or not to put a cell tower in place in an area where residents have already fought against it. The previous tower was proposed to be at 190 feet. The new tower is proposed to be at 130. Why the difference – the application for the tower at 190 feet would have to be approved by the zoning board again, the same board that didn’t pass it before. At 130 feet, the tower only has to be approved by the Bedford Town Council. And that’s where the story gets interesting.
The cell tower saga has been going on for the past few years. The need seems to have been driven by former Bedford Firefighter Steve Brady. He did a lot of work to get information about the cell tower and former Town Manager Steven Daly signed a lease and authorization form with Crown Castle to make it happen.
The problem came to light when local citizens found out and fought against it. The zoning board failed to approve the tower and Crown Castle sued. Eventually Crown ended their lawsuit and now another company, Blue Sky, LLC (questionable if they aren’t the same since they have the same lawyer), has come in wanting a tower in the same place but at a shorter height.
Bedford Citizens who live in the neighborhood and who have children who attend the Riddle Brook Elementary School are adamantly opposed to the placement of the cell tower. They signed petitions, sent emails to board members; testified at hearings and demanded it not be put in their neighborhood due to the potential health issues as well as drop in home values.
The reasoning for the cell tower was that emergency services in the town need to have better coverage. That is still the excuse that is being used today. There are a few problems with that excuse however. According to emails reviewed in a right-to-know request filed by Political Buzz, the cell tower at Chubbuck Road wouldn’t even provide good coverage at 190 feet, never mind 130 feet. An email from Steve Brady shows how critical the height of the tower at 190 feet is:
At 190ft it gives us a comfortable working height to hit the tower at the Air Force Tracking Station and get into the radio network that way.
I know there are some variances that will need to be applied for by the applicant. I am hoping that by understanding that the tower height is truly a life safety need will help the process.
Even former Bedford Town Manager Jessie Levine reiterated the critical need for the tower to be 190 feet (during this mess there have been a total of 3 town managers, Rick Sawyer is the current Bedford Town Manager):
Height is a ZBA matter, but since it’s proposed on Town property, the Town would be the underlying applicant and most likely we would be in the position of having to defend the proposal. If the Council is not going to support a tower of 190′ (a height necessary for communication purposes as you’ll see in the staff report and presentation from BFD), then there’s no use even considering a lease and sending Crown Castle to the ZBA.
According to a 2-way communications expert who works with Bedford, the Chubbuck Road site isn’t very useful in the first place [emphasis added]:
The height of the tower was necessary to give the DPW better communication and also to allow the PD and FD primaries to operate from there in an event that all other infrastructure was lost. As far as improving PD and FD coverage, the site has marginal impact, only helping a bit at the very northern areas…which are sparsely populated. We can work with 130’.
Is the real goal to get this tower in for the Department of Public Works? A study was done that showed two other sites would be much better than the Chubbuck Road site:
So my read on this is that Constitution is ranked one, BCTV two and Chubbuck three. This was money very well spent. Goes to show that topography plays a huge part in things and a goof RF assessment is worth its weight in gold.
And another from the local Bedford Community Television Station manager:
Surprisingly the Chubbuck Tower would not cover the town as well as the 10 meeting house location or the safety complex tower. So, height isn’t everything because of the antenna restrictions for LPFM stations. The safety complex tower is better than the original location we had here at the BCTV building. All this continues to support the location for the LPFM at the safety complex.
What’s ironic is the International Association of Fire Fighters voted to reject any type of towers as a base at safety complexes or fire stations for health reasons:
RESOLVED, That the IAFF oppose the use of fire stations as base stations for antennas and towers for the conduction of cell phone transmissions until such installations are proven not to be hazardous to the health of our members.
This resolution was created back in 2004. There have been other studies since then about the risks to health of those located near cell towers and antennas and that’s one of the main reasons Bedford Citizens have been adamantly against the tower on Chubbuck Road yet a fire fighter was pushing to have it there.
Rick Sawyer attached his recommendation for the tower to the agenda for the town council meeting. In it he reiterated safety communication reasons:
Consistent with my recommendation in December I continue to believe that there is a need to improve our emergency communications system and that partnering with a private cell tower company is fiscally responsible. I do appreciate the concern previously raised by our residents and parents of schoolchildren at Riddle Brook Elementary, but given the community needs the firing range site provides the greatest distance away from homes and the school that can be found.
What is the real reason the town seems so adamant about putting a cell tower in on Chubbuck Road? Any claims that it is for safety or necessary for emergency service communications are unfounded as proven by studies conducted. Given these facts, and it’s unclear if every member of the Bedford Town Council has all of this information, why would anyone still be pushing for the tower on Chubbuck Road?
The cell tower is scheduled to come up for a vote before the town council this week, the supposed need once again being for safety communications. Residents are still against the tower being in their back yards and near an elementary school, the height change doesn’t matter. The difference with this vote is it’s going to the town council rather than the zoning board. Was that intentional because some members of the board may vote against the wishes of the citizens they represent? That question should be answered on Wednesday.