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AT&T defends plan to build 140-foot tower on Brad Mead Drive near Pico Mountain


KILLINGTON - Elizabeth Kohler, an attorney representing AT&T, attended the Town Meeting last Tuesday, Nov. 19, to answer questions and address concerns regarding plans to construct a 140-foot cell tower on Brad Mead Drive.
Killington Town Manager, Seth Wood, relayed emails from local residents Sandra Deitch, Marty and Jane Post, and Jan Rich, all of whom oppose the building of the tower. Their main concerns included health issues, aesthetic disturbance, and negatively impacting resale value of properties.
For those with significant aesthetic concerns, local resident Vince Wynn suggested installing 'Distributed Antenna Systems' (DAS), where a single antenna radiating at high power is replaced by a group of smaller low-power antennas to cover the same area.
Kohler refuted the capability of DAS systems in rural areas. "DAS systems supplement service in urban areas, but where there is significant area to cover, especially in Vermont, DAS is not a practical response."
Killington Resort also communicated concern. While the resort is in favor of improved cell service, it is concerned about resale value (they are the largest landowner in the area) and given the proximity of the tower to Pico, worried about the disturbance to natural beauty. Killington Resort suggested a less obtrusive design, and taking a more tactical approach.
Faced with specific concerns regarding impact to views from Deer Leap and the Appalachian Trail, Kohler cited the results of the balloon test, where a balloon is floated 90 feet above the property in order to understand a structure's visual impact. She said, "From the Appalachian Trail, the site will not be visible for most of the year." Admitting that the site is visible from Deer Leap, she said they are under the process of evaluating a Monopine; a cell tower designed to blend in with the surrounding landscape.
Regarding health concerns, Kohler said, "(This development) is well within 1% of FCC standard, it is very low." She added, "This structure will not involve microwave transformers which can have slightly higher radio frequency."
Kohler doesn't believe the site would affect property values, "I have commissioned a lot of studies that show proximity to towers does not have an adverse affect on property values."
Selectman Bernie Rome pointed out that there had been no confirmation from AT&T whether cell coverage would actually be improved, or an explanation given as to why this location had been chosen. "For me to support this tower, I would want to know that there would be increased coverage for sure!"
In response, Kohler said, "The primary driver in the construction of the tower is customer complaints. Customers want phones to work, and customers drive all decisions at AT&T." Adding, "Vermont has residents who are dependent on technology, residents who work from home, residents who depend on tourism."
The first of multiple sites planned for Killington, this site will be predominantly for improving coverage. Kohler explained, "It does add additional capacity, but improving density is the main priority, not capacity."
AT&T engineer, Sohail Usmani, explained why Brad Mead Drive had been chosen, "There is a small geographic ring where there is a gap in coverage, the existing site is the center of a void." He noted, " If you are able to make a call, that doesn't mean all users can." Usmani went on to say there would be an increase of 800% in data phones over the next few years. "This tower will help cope with that demand."
Undecided, the Selectboard asked Kohler to return to the Town Meeting on Dec. 5 with an 'aesthetic mitigation' plan, and an 'assured coverage with citizens' plan.