VELCO wants Act 250 opinion reconsidered

WATERBURY, VT - The Vermont Electric Company (VELCO) has filed for reconsideration of the Jurisdictional Opinion (JO) issued by the District 7 Environmental Commission.Kirstin Sultan, the District 7 Coordinator, issued the JO on August 8. It states that the existing telecommunications towers located on Nelson Hill in Derby need Act 250 permits. However no one seems to know when the towers were built. Neighbors provided conflicting reports and USDA photos do not identify the year the photos were taken.The JO notes that the 100-foot Border Patrol tower was build prior to June 1, 1970, and is exempt from Act 250. The 170-foot Steele Communications tower, built in 1990, already has an Act 250 permit. It remains a mystery when the two other towers were built. There is an 85-foot Great Auk wireless tower, which is shared with Central Vermont Communication, and a 60-foot “Pike Tower” owned by Rinkers Communication. The 60-foot tower is under a purchase and sales agreement with VELCO. Initially, VELCO was going to co-locate on the Pike Tower, but the tower was found to be structurally inadequate and too short for VELCO’s needs. VELCO would like to tear it down and build a 115-foot tower as part of its statewide project to provide better communication between electrical workers and possibly emergency personnel.Vermont Law, 30 V.S.A. 248a, allows for telecommunication project applicants to go directly to the Public Service Board (PSB) and bypass local zoning as well as Act 250.Sultan’s JO did not include VELCO’s proposed tower. However, VELCO, through its attorney Will Dodge with the law firm of Downs, Rachlin, and Martin, would like the JO amended and reconsidered stating that evidence suggests that the Pike and Great Auk towers were built before June 1, 1970. Dodge says that will allow VELCO to just get one permit instead of having to get two, which would include an Act 250 permit for the tower they want to tear down.Dodge also argues that the Great Auk tower was not a substantial change to the existing structure and therefore would not have triggered Act 250.Three of the four towers are located on the Brown property at 3557 Nelson Hill Road, with the Steele tower on the adjacent property. In an affidavit, Jim Brown stated that he lived at the location from 1972 and can remember three towers. VELCO's attorneys received affidavits from a group of Brown's neighbors asserting they had lived on Nelson Hill from the 1960s and that they can remember more than one tower. VELCO attorneys have a purchase agreement from a Mr. Rinker (Pike Tower), which states the tower was built in 1968. Dodge says that telecommunication towers are built after order request and “are typically installed within a year.”Neighbors Sharon and Mark Tarbox are concerned about possible health side effects from the towers and were involved in urging Act 250 to step in. Mark Tarbox, in an affidavit, states that while on a police pursuit in the early 1970s, he remembers seeing only one tower on Nelson Hill.VELCO, in response to neighbors' concerns over health effects, hired a company to take emission readings and the report, which consists of four hours of collected data, shows the emissions to be well below the range for what is considered harmful to health, VELCO asserts. However, some neighbors want a long-term emissions study.Derby officials are considering asking for a 14-day study if they decide to make a comment to the PSB on the application for the certificate of public good.