Deal reached on Falmouth communications tower

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council last week unanimously accepted a lease agreement with AT&T to replace the public safety communications tower behind Town Hall with a monopole for both municipal and public cellular use.

The council voted 6-0, with Councilor Sean Mahoney absent, at the Oct. 15 meeting.

The subject that dominated the meeting, however, was a discussion over harvesting two forested properties in the town.

The tower, which will be 120 feet tall with a 20-foot antenna on top, will be able to service three cellular providers, including AT&T. The tower will be a stealth design, meaning traditional external antennas will be in the pole. The current tower is 80 feet tall, with a 20-foot antenna on top.

Town Manager Nathan Poore said that while the tower will certainly provide improved cell service, the need is related to data capacity for smart phones, tablets and similar technology.

All abutters within 750 feet were notified, Council Chair Karen Farber said. The initial lease will be for 10 years, and AT&T can renew the lease three times, with each renewal for five years, for a total of 25 years. There will be a 30 percent revenue sharing to the town for all co-locators on the tower.

Councilor Russell Anderson asked if the 30 percent revenue sharing might be serve as a disincentive to other providers.

Poore responded that the co-locators will get a market rate, not a “market rate plus 30 percent.”

Harvesting plan

After hearing about a plan for harvesting trees at the Blackstrap Hill Community Forest and Woods Road Community Forest, the council ultimately decided that consultation from a forest ecologist is necessary before any decision can be made.

However, the council cannot deny harvesting in the forests, because the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife mandates harvesting every 10 years.

The plan, as explained by Town Forrester Paul Larrivee, would draw from the individual 2013 open space management plans for both properties. A selective cut in both properties would “take out less desirable trees and encourage new species to exist there,” Larrivee said.

The Woods Road plan would call for harvesting likely up to one-third of the trees in a 36-acre zone, to create an area where deer can find food. A 100-acre zone in the forest would be left alone, so the deer could have shelter.

“I just think that’s outrageous,” Anderson said with regard to the number of trees being harvested.

Larrivee said the harvest would be selective, “removing the worst first,” meaning trees in decline or decaying. He said the timber in this area is low quality and would be pulp material.

Larrivee said the harvesting would have to be done in the winter, otherwise the soil is too wet to work on.

He said the goal is to ensure diversity, so not just one particular kind of tree would be harvested.

The Blackstrap Road plan would call for harvesting to a lesser scale on three different lots in over 60 acres of the forest. The forest contains more than 200 acres. The goal of this harvesting effort is to remove lower-value, poor-quality trees overtopped by larger ones.

“We’re proposing an improvement harvest for forest management, and providing the opportunity for more growth,” Larrivee said.

The council asked that best efforts be made to have the consultation from the forest ecologist by the second council meeting in November. 

In other business, the council:

• Unanimously passed an order for the town manager to apply for state financing assistance to upgrade approximately a quarter-mile of trail at the Woods Road Community Forest. This would come in the form of an $18,000 grant, with up to $3,000 to be matched by the town, and would help create a parking area and provide handicapped accessibility.

• Voted 4-2 to create an ad-hoc Community Park Connector Committee to develop a plan for a trail connection between Community Park and the schools campus. The committee will be up to nine members, with a council-appointed liaison, and will report back to the council by June 30, 2015. Councilors Charlie McBrady and Anderson dissented.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.