DERBY- The controversy continues in Derby over a proposed telecommunications tower, for a second time in front of the Derby Planning Commission.
The debate came under "other business" and the Vermont Electric Company (VELCO) tower was not specifically warned on the agenda. Despite that, VELCO sent a team of seven – two attorneys, an engineer, the company's chief financial officer, and three company representatives – to the Derby Planning Commission’s meeting Monday evening in an attempt to once again get the planning commission to urge the select board to provide a recommendation as part of VELCO's application for a Certificate of Public Good from the Public Service Board (PSB).
When Chairman Joe Proferra saw the size of the VELCO team, he joked, “Who’s minding the store?”
VELCO is working to install a large tower in Derby on Nelson Hill Road to improve communication reliability among utility workers and possibly among emergency personnel.
Concerned residents have raised the issue of radio frequency (RF) waves emitted from the towers located at Derby’s Antenna Farm. In high amounts, RF can be harmful to health. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sets safety standards for RF waves, criteria for evaluation and compliance, and regulations for telecommunication towers.
Act 30 Section 248A of the Vermont Statutes allows for telecommunication towers to be installed without local permits and without going through the Act 250 process.
However, District #7 environmental commissioner Kirstin Sultan said she plans to issue a jurisdictional opinion or whether or not the Act 250 process is required for the proposed tower. She is also looking into whether or not other towers at the site need Act 250 permits as well since that jurisdictional issue has been undecided for the last two years. Sultan did not indicate when she was issuing her opinion. She said VELCO is sending her information and she needs time to review it.
Derby officials asked VELCO to complete a power density study to determine the cumulative emissions from the Derby antenna farm. An engineer hired by VELCO did a study measuring the emissions for three and a half hours. He said the results showed 35.8 percent of the maximum amount allowed by FCC.
However, Bob Cooper, a Holland resident, is still not convinced that VELCO has proven the safety of the RF emissions. He was critical of the study and implored the board to ask for a study done over a longer period of time by an independent organization. He also requested more time for the entire review process. Cooper is concerned as his house is 5,000 feet from the antenna farm and sits at a high elevation. He said there is a direct line from his house to the antennas.
Cooper, who said it was a debate of seven versus one, told Board Chairman Proferra that he was under a "multifarious attack" and asked that the VELCO people address him one at a time. Cooper said later that Proferra handled the meeting "in a very professional manner."
Cooper and Proferra questioned who has jurisdiction over the tower. VELCO’s attorney maintains that the PSB resolves jurisdictional disputes over the towers. The PSB may also take comments on the proposed project but is not obligated to do so.
The issues were discussed for about two hours Monday evening. The Planning Commission has not yet made a recommendation that can be passed on to the select board.
Vermont law requires that the applicant notify the town and answer questions and address concerns for a 45-day period before moving forward with the application for the Certificate of Public Good. The Derby Select Board agreed and asked VELCO to give town officials until September 1 to allow for time to gather information in order to make an informed decision.
VELCO is not obligated to give towns any time beyond the 45 days, but they would like a positive recommendation from the towns, said a spokesman
The Derby antenna farm consists of a VELCO tower, which is slated to be replaced with the larger tower, a broadcasting tower (MOO 92), a federal government tower (Border Patrol), and a cell phone tower (Verizon).