2017-11-16 / Front Page

Cell Carriers Pitch Taller City Tower

By James Merolla

At a workshop with the Newport City Council on Wednesday night, three cellular companies trying to remain signal-viable on the existing tower at Rogers High School proposed building a taller tower on the other end of the campus.

Ed Pare, an attorney representing AT&T, and Dan Goulet, with a network modeling company called C Squared Systems, spoke for that carrier, along with T-Mobile and Verizon, the three cell giants whose leases were not renewed this year. The expiration of each carrier’s lease forced their exit from the controversial, 80-foot-tall Rogers High cell tower, which neighbors have been trying to remove for more than two years.

The carriers want to build a 140- foot tower approximately 900 feet from the existing tower, and next to the school auditorium.

“Once you provide coverage to subscribers, you can’t just take it away,” Pare said. “You can’t have the area go dark.”

Pare said Verizon’s signal still sits lowest on the existing tower, with T-Mobile above them at 60 feet and AT&T on top at about 70 feet. Goulet said that for expanded coverage, ideally a new tower should be about 140 feet tall, but no shorter than 120 feet.

The proposed new tower was shown in model maps to about 35 people at the workshop, including the Newport School District Superintendent Colleen Jermain and various members of the Newport School Committee who voted two years ago to end the existing leases.

Goulet said that if a new tower is not built, coverage along streets like Ocean Avenue, Carroll Avenue and Ruggles Road would “go dark,” with no cell signals. “Basically all the high school [cell coverage] goes away, and Gooseberry and Hazard’s Beach,” said Goulet.

Pare said 140 feet would be the minimum for the new tower, with Verizon occupying the 120-foot mark, T-Mobile at 130 feet, and AT&T 140.

Councilor Kate Leonard questioned the tower’s appearance. “I’m looking at this a little differently. I’m looking [at it] as really unattractive. In modern technology there must be some other way to do it, other than that,” said Leonard, pointing to a simulation slide showing the proposed tower.

Councilor Jamie Bova asked if the carriers could occupy multiple lower towers or be placed on poles at heights of only 60 or 70 feet high, one carrier for each, or on other existing buildings.

Goulet said that the possibility had not been studied heading into this workshop. Pare said there weren’t existing buildings tall enough to do this in the Fifth Ward.

“You have to try to maintain the same footprint,” Pare said. “If you ship the site far away from this location, it’s not going to be the same.”

Attorney Joe Hall, representing Verizon, suggested another alternative: “We stay right where we are,” Hall said. He once again proposed design changes within the existing tower so it would not appear as obtrusive, as he has done throughout the extensive discussions on the matter. And he spoke of new Rogers High campus design plans in the near future.

“If this tower goes where it is, is that going to be smack dab in the middle of a new campus?” asked Hall.

Mayor Harry Winthrop appealed to audience members living in proximity to the existing cell tower. “Do you want to have it modified in the existing location?” Winthrop asked. No one in the audience approved of the idea.

“My perspective is, once the city accepts larger poles, the city won’t be able to get rid of them,” Leonard said. “If the city were to approve this cell phone tower at 180 feet, what would you want the lease to be?”

Pare said a typical term was four to five years, but was negotiable.

“We’d be looking at these poles for 30 or 40 years, and if new technology came along, we’d still be looking at them,” said Leonard.

Pare said the new tower could go up in as little as 120 days. He admitted that while the existing neighbors would be pleased, the tower would be set among another set of houses, a possible concern for Rogers’ neighbors on the other side.

“We’re not making any decisions here today,” Winthrop said.

For 10 months through 2015, officials heard vehement opposition from neighbors against the noise, emissions, unsightliness and potential expansion of the 80-foot tower on school grounds, since it was erected as a windmill in 1983.

After weeks of verbal sparring, the Newport School Committee voted 5-1 on Dec. 8, 2015 to end the existing leases. A week later, the School Committee notified AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile that, when their contracts expired in June, October and December of 2017, respectively, they would have to remove all of their equipment.

When Winthrop was asked if Verizon had removed their equipment, which, by law, should have happened in October, the mayor replied, “That is not part of this discussion.”

After the meeting, School Committee member Kathy Sylvia said the equipment had not come down. The schools stand to lose approximately $90,000 annually as a result of the leases expiring.

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