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Proposed Tower Troubles Some In Thetford

Thetford — The proposed construction of two 100-foot towers at the site of a Christian retreat have some Thetford residents concerned about the visual impact the WaveComm telecommunications towers could have on the area.

After WaveComm filed its Act 250 permit application in mid-December to erect two towers to expand broadband Internet services in town, residents filed for party status and requested a hearing for further information on the project.

“It’s very unclear from the application … where the towers would go. I am concerned about how big they will be and if they will impact the natural scenic beauty of the area and have any adverse effects,” said resident Annie Coulter, who lives on nearby Upper Bailey Road and whose family enjoys hiking and outdoor activities near the proposed tower sites.

“I am not taking sides, just purely gathering information,” she said.

Property abutter Donna Panella also asked for a hearing and cited aesthetics as her main concern.

“My property abuts the proposed project site and from a significant portion of my property and the main rooms of my house, I will have views of the southern tower which will extend significantly above the tree-line directly in my main view,” Panella wrote in her petition to the District 3 Environmental Commission, which handles applications for Act 250, which covers large-scale developments, in northern Windsor County and most of Orange County.

Due to the request for a hearing by some Thetford residents, the state set a site visit at 9 a.m. tomorrow, followed by a public hearing at the Thetford Town Offices.

Documents filed by WaveComm indicate the proposed towers would be 100 feet tall, which is about 10 to 20 feet above the tree line in the area.

“The project is not locate(d) in a designated scenic corridor or, in a public recreation area, and cannot be seen from such areas. It does not impact a scenic landscape. Closest recreation area is over 2000 feet away,” the company wrote in its Act 250 filings.

Bob Jacobson of Lebanon-based WaveComm said in an interview that the towers “probably won’t be visible from anywhere in Thetford” and “won’t be visible from any other towns. Unless you are right outside of it.”

The project, which would extend broadband service to “a couple hundred” residents, according to Jacobson, entails erecting two towers from a patch of landscaped land located at 1646 Gove Hill Road, the home of Gove Hill Retreat — a ministry of the American Baptist Church of Vermont and New Hampshire. Documents indicated the towers, which would not be lit, would extend 20 feet above the tree canopy. Associated broadband antennas would be powered by a solar panel attached to each tower.

The Gove Hill Retreat website mentions the property’s scenic location, saying, “We have spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. On a clear day even Mount Washington in New Hampshire can be seen!”

Gove Hill Retreat Resident Director Bill Clark wrote in a June 2012 letter to WaveComm that the Retreat “would be pleased to have your towers on our property,” which is owned by the American Baptist Church of Vermont and New Hampshire. The letter also requested that WaveComm donate $500 a year to Gove Hill Retreat and provide Internet service to the Retreat as part of its compensation, according to Act 250 documents.

Clark declined an interview request this week.

The project passed through the Thetford Development Review Board without community backlash in the fall, according to Zoning Administrator Mary Ellen Parkman. Parkman said no one in opposition came to the Development Review Board’s public hearing on Oct. 23 — where the board ultimately made the decision to OK the project.

When the project reached the state level though, some opponents started to raise questions.

“There were no problems while it was going through (the towns permitting process), but with a lot of these things we don’t often hear about problems until the process is further along and when people feel these kinds of things are really going to happen,” said Selectboard Chairman Donn Downey.

State officials said tomorrow’s hearing is for the public to air concerns on Act 250 criterion of “aesthetics.”

Jacobson said if WaveComm, which already has a tower on Childs Hill in Thetford, gets the go-ahead, the company hopes to install the Gove Hill towers this spring.

Selectboard chairman Downey said the board hasn’t taken an official position on the towers but noted that the area of town where the towers would be built lacks high-speed Internet service.

“Because of the topography, the tight valleys and tall hills, it makes it difficult (to establish services),” Downey said, adding Comcast doesn’t have a presence in the proposed area and FairPoint Communications has limited options. “Any effort that is going to help a lot of people on that side of town, we in general, are in support of. As long as we are balancing the interests of those involved, we would like to see more broadband coverage.”

Because of other activity at the Gove Hill Retreat tomorrow, those attending the site visit are being asked to park at the foot of the Retreat’s driveway or at 1653 Gove Hill Rd.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@gmail.com.

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