New municipal officials got their first information on the question of whether the city should allow a 140-foot communications tower to be built at as the Public Safety Committee of the City Council held a meeting on the topic on Monday.
Councilor Wade Hyslop, the chairman of the committee, is one of three councilors remaining from the previous council. Councilors Marie Friess-McSparran and Donald Macrino, the other two members of the committee, heard information on the proposal for the first time along with Councilors John Maynard and Anthony Nolan, who attended the proceedings.
Message Center Management Inc. of Hartford has proposed the cylindrical tower as a way of strengthening emergency communications and cell phone reception in the southern part of the city. The organization Save Ocean Beach, a nonprofit group dedicated to the maintenance of the park, has supported placing the tower at a site near the beach entrance out of three possible locations. The tower is projected to bring in an estimated $1.2 million in revenue, which would go toward the upkeep of the beach.
The City Council deferred or tabled a vote on the matter three times last summer, with the .
Neighbors in the Ocean Beach area have raised several concerns about the project, and several showed up to speak at the committee meeting. Susan Walsh, of Stuart Ave., said the proposed tower sites are prone to flooding and questioned whether such a project would be allowed under the beach’s charter. She also said the tower would be an aesthetic detriment to the area.
“It’ll be 200 feet from my bedroom,” she said. “I won’t be looking at an osprey nest anymore. I’ll be looking at a white cell tower.”
Betsy Perkins, of Greenway Road, said the towers are an antiquated technology and that better options are available.
“For us to have this monstrosity there doesn’t make any sense,” she said.
Steve Alligood of Waterford, a member of Save Ocean Beach, said it would be foolhardy to place the tower at Ocean Beach. He said it would be vulnerable to hurricanes and that losing the tower in such a storm would both endanger surrounding properties and knock out emergency communications during a time when they would be in strong demand.
Nancy Baude, another member of Save Ocean Beach, supported the project. Baude said there is already a tower at Ocean Beach and that another one formerly stood on the site as well. She said there have been several incidents at the beach and that the tower was proposed out of concerns for adequate emergency communications as well as the ability to report emergencies via cell phone.
“It’s too bad it was an election year, because I’m sure it would have passed,” she said.
Under one proposal, New London would join Waterford’s communications system. Councilor Adam Sprecace said in an e-mail to committee members that Waterford’s system could cover 95 percent of southern New London’s needs. He said the cost would be $500,000 to buy into the system and $50,000 per year for maintenance costs.
Alligood voiced his support for the proposal at Monday’s meeting. He said that under this setup, New London would receive an autonomous channel for emergency communications.
“New London would get a $6.5 million infrastructure that’s already in place,” he said.
Residents said one possibility is a distributed antenna system, a network of small antennas usually distributed among utility or telephone poles to provide wireless service. Other proposals would add a shorter tower to the GAM building at Ocean Beach or extend the tower at the of the New London Fire Department.
Timothy Hanser, director of the , said he considers public safety the primary issue in the debate over the tower. He said the city will need to switch to narrow band channels per new rules from the Federal Communications Commission.
“Coverage that’s poor now is going to get worse, and we need to address that,” said Hanser.
Joseph Grimmett, national site acquisitions agent with MCM, said numerous factors—including impact on wetlands and historical sites as well as the height needed for an unimpeded signal—were taken into consideration in choosing the site and tower design. He said the tower also needs to be in a place where it can be commercially viable to cell phone carriers.
“We need to make it something that’s going to cover an expansive area and connect with other towers,” said Grimmett.
Grimmett said he will have a comprehensive report on tower options available as well as alternate options within a month.
Dan McSparran, Friess-McSparran’s husband, wrote the committee a letter asking if there had been discussions with other communities that had established cell towers and suggested a committee that would include concerned residents could look into the topics. Members of the Public Safety Committee did not take action on the suggestion, but said they supported the idea.
“Many of us feel very much like you do, and we’re not going to proceed until we’re sure it’s safe and not an eyesore,” Macrino told the audience.