Hopes for Clarity Over Tower’s Visual Impact Deflated

by Doug McClure
photo by Vanessa Fournier | In 2004, Barre paging service owner Karl Rinker proposed a communications tower on Bridgman Hill. Rinker conducted his own amateur balloon tests and said at the time he had become a balloon expert.

HARDWICK – No balloon was flown from Buffalo Mountain to indicate the visual impact of a proposed new communications tower. The balloon trial on Saturday was canceled due to the potential for inclement weather, but it may be rescheduled for this weekend.

Twenty-three years ago, select board member Ceilidh Galloway-Kane’s mother, Anne Galloway, led the charge to stop NYNEX and Bell Atlantic Mobile (BAM) from building a tower in Hardwick. Today, Galloway-Kane weighs another tower’s fate. But compared to 2004 (see related article), the tower controversy of 2020 is far more restrained.

The Hardwick Planning Commission, along with four residents, have filed Motions to Intervene with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Resident Julie Gregonis filed a motion with the PUC to dismiss AT&T’s request for a Certificate of Public Good (CPG).

In her motion, Gregonis alleged several errors in AT&T’s filing, including an argument that “the Petition does not accurately identify all of the Host Landowners as required.” Gregonis said the Town of Hardwick is itself one of the landowners because it owns the Buffalo Mountain access road. “The Town of Hardwick Select Board meeting minutes clearly show that Petitioner does not have Town approval to use the proposed access road,” she wrote.

The select board discussed that concern separately at the December 3 select board meeting. At the meeting, board member Shari Cornish made a motion stating that AT&T “can’t use the road.” Chair Eric Remick responded, “We can’t deny them the ability to pass on a public road.” Cornish amended the suggested motion to prohibit AT&T from making improvements to the road.

Vice chair Elizabeth Dow noted “[AT&T] could be working on the assumption that they’re going to go forward with this whether or not we give them permission. They could go in a different route, arrange for rights-of-way through a series of private properties. Their strategy is just to go forward assuming they’re going to be able to do it, maybe on the [Buffalo Mountain] trail, maybe some other way.”

Cornish said, “Let’s simplify it for them and tell them that they’re not going to do it on the [Buffalo Mountain] trail.” Galloway-Kane said while she found that suggestion appealing, it might be best to put off the decision until after a balloon test and consideration of ramifications from forcing AT&T to use a different route.

“What might that decision to have a different access look like in terms of the environment, in terms of a lot of things?” Galloway-Kane said. “I think we should wait for the balloon test to happen. I think it’s a great idea [to refuse permission] but I just want to think about it.”

In her Motion to Dismiss, Gregonis focused on AT&T’s vague language regarding proposed changes to Buffalo Mountain Trail. “Rather than provide a description of the work that would have to be done to install power and upgrade the access road to gain access to the site, the Site Plan simply says ‘Design Pending’,” Gregonis argued. The Site Plan also failed to describe the work needed to upgrade the trail and bury the power line, “which will likely require blasting,” Gregonis asserted. In the motion, she argued no permits or plans for that work were filed, nor was an environmental assessment performed.

Gregonis also took issue with AT&T’s “glaringly absent” consideration that the town plan identifies Buffalo Mountain as a scenic resource. Gregonis said the previous balloon test had not been publicized widely enough and she identified at least eighteen locations she said were absent from the first balloon test. However, of the locations she specified, at least three were included in the August 2019 balloon test. One location, the Swinging Bridge, is closed and thus impossible to use as a viewing location.

Gregonis argued that at this stage there is no way for AT&T to cure the deficiencies in its filing and, as result, its CPG must be dismissed. “Petitioner’s decision to file an incomplete Petition has adversely affected the rights of Intervenor Gregonis and her ability to fully participate in this proceeding,” she argued.

The other residents filing requests for interventions have stated concerns for the tower’s impact on the scenery, environment, and property values. Similar concerns were raised in 2004 and in 1997 regarding the tower on Bridgman Hill and the NYNEX tower. The NYNEX tower was never built and the Bridgman Hill tower took seven years to complete.

The zoning board noted in December, 2004 that Hardwick had no cell phone coverage at the time, and if not for the Bridgman Hill tower, still might not have it today. In 2004, several people lobbied for the tower to be located somewhere other than Bridgman Hill. In its first decision in December 2004, the zoning board concurred. The preferred location was Buffalo Mountain.