2018-08-23 / Front Page

Town eyes north end cell tower

Poor reception, fewer landlines cited as reasons
BY TIM RIEL

The town council Monday night gave positive signals to a plan that would erect a cellular tower on the north end of the island.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” said Mike Glier, the town’s director of information technology. “What’s driven us to this point, aside from poor service, is public safety. More and more people are cutting their cords.”

Because landlines are becoming obsolete, residents outside of the current cellular zone are prone to losing service during emergencies, Glier said. The existing zone, which is powered by antennas atop the Howland Avenue water towers, ranges from Weeden Lane south to Hull Cove. According to Glier, a study by the Centers for Disease Control has suggested more than half of Americans have ditched their landlines.

“Wireless has become the preferred service,” he said. “That’s what it’s going to be going forward.”

To align with technological norms, the councilors gave unanimous approval for the town to solicit bids from engineering firms to delve deeper into the feasibility of a tower.

While the councilors did not commit to a site Monday, they were presented with three publicly owned sites north of Route 138. To determine these locations, Glier said he was looking for parcels set high above sea level that easily could be accessed during storms. Also, it had to be a minimum half-acre to accommodate three cellular carriers.

“This tends to eliminate a lot of the smaller properties,” Glier said.

The first site on Cedar Lane would cover 1,775 parcels, which is about 250 more lots than the Howland Avenue site. The second site, on North Main Road near the reservoir, would reach 1,215 parcels. The third site, which Glier did not recommend, was on East Shore Road just north of the community farm. This site would serve 598 parcels, including a sparse amount of Jamestown Shores homes.

These service areas are based on a 2-mile radius. All of these numbers are assuming a 125- foot cellular tower; as a reference point, Glier said the Howland Avenue tower was 104 feet tall. The apex, he said, would have to overlook the tree canopy.

“Height above sea level is the number-one driver,” he said.

The ideal spot, however, is across the street from Godena Farm.

“That’s the perfect site,” Glier said.

The farmhouse, however, is owned by the Conanicut Island Land Trust. It’s on the same easement that protects the fields, although Councilman Blake Dickinson suggested trading town land for that private parcel.

“It’s an interesting concept,” Glier said.

Jim Turenne and Carol Crafts, however, both board members of the land trust, shook their heads from the audience as this was proposed. Dickinson was not surprised by their negative response.

“It’s not uncommon for the land trust to say no,” he said. “In my experience, they typically say no to any cooperation with the town.”

Despite the pessimistic feedback from Turenne and Crafts, the council charged Town Administrator Andy Nota with making a phone call to the land trust about the property.

“Let’s find out,” said Councilman Gene Mihaly.

Because the Cedar Lane plan discounts roughly 175 parcels at the northernmost part of the island, the council said dealing with a private property owner was still in play.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Dickinson said.

Council President Kristine Trocki, however, said the town was not interested in partnering with a site that would only host a singular cellular carrier.

According to Glier, the town has experience with this process. The town currently has contracts with AT&T, Sprint and Verizon to lease space on top of the Howland Avenue towers.

“We understand the business model,”  he said

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