Cell tower plan moving ahead [The News-Times, Danbury, Conn.]
(News-Times (Danbury, CT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sept. 21--RIDGEFIELD -- The town's emergency communications system is built around a mix of high-band and low-band frequencies that depend on seven cell towers to relay messages.
But there's a fatal weakness in the system. Those seven cell towers use batteries for power. During big power outages like the town endured in 2011 and 2012, the emergency communications system suffers.
"After 24 hours, the batteries start going down," said Fire Chief Heather Burford, who is the town's director of emergency operations.
"The need for better cell services was best demonstrated by the frustrations the town had during Irene, 'Snowtober' and Sandy," said First Selectmen Rudy Marconi.
That is why Burford and Marconi said they're welcoming the idea of a cell tower to be built on the ridge line behind Ridgefield High School. The town could put its own radio system up there.
Because the tower will have its own generator, there would be no power failure.
"It would give us a much improved, much simpler system," Burford said.
The town may get its first look at the plans for the new tower in about a month.
Ray Vergati, site development manager for Danbury-based Homeland Towers, said his company -- which is working in tandem with AT&T on the project -- plans to file plans with the town by mid-October.
That sets off a 90-day period when the town can comment on the plan, and representatives from Homeland Towers can come to town and explain what the company wants to do.
However, Vergati said, the town, while it can comment, has no power to rule on the project.
The State Siting Council has that power. After the 90-day period ends, Homeland Towers will file a formal application with the council.
The council will then begin its investigation, which will include a formal public hearing.
Vergati said the Siting Council can take six months to a year to complete its review and make a decision.
"We're hoping to get approval in the fourth quarter of 2014," Vergati said, adding if the company gets approval it could have the tower built and operating in two months.
"It's relatively quick," he said.
If it is built, it will also be a reversal of fortune for the site.
In the first half of 2011, the town, collaborating on a plan to preserve 25.8 acres of land on the ridge line, proposed building a cell tower there. Voters overwhelming opposed the idea at a town meeting.
The Conservation Commission eventually ended up buying the land -- sans tower -- in 2012.
But in 2013, InSite Towers, a Virginia-based company, paid $265,000 for a 3-acre plot of land near the intersection of Old Stagecoach and Aspen Ledge roads -- land that adjoins the preserved open space.
Marconi said he expects some of the people who opposed the tower in 2011 to do so again.
"But you have to remember that opposition was before Irene and the snowstorm and Sandy," Marconi said. "I think a lot of people will be more receptive to it now."
Marconi and Burford said a cell tower there will vastly improve the spotty cell services in the northwest corner of town. That's important for emergency 911 calls. It's also important for day-to-day communications.
"A lot of people don't even have land lines -- they just have cellphones," Marconi said. "Society has changed."
(c)2013 The News-Times (Danbury, Conn.)
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