A key Adirondack Park Agency committee has approved a new rule that would - in many cases - streamline the review process for telecommunications towers. Some environmentalists have resisted the change, which would allow APA staff to approve permits without bringing the project before the APA's Board of Commissioners. Jacob Resneck reports.
The APA approved about a half-dozen new cell towers this year. The park agency touts this fact as evidence that a 2002 policy - which requires telecommunications towers to be quote "substantially invisible" - isn't insurmountable as critics say.
But APA Deputy Director Mark Sengenberger says that in some cases, the application process should be simpler. The agency staff often requires visual models that demonstrate that the proposed towers would be barely visible when the application is brought before the Board of Commissioners.
Sengenberger used a recent example, an 84-foot tower in North Hudson that's barely visible from any vantage point, as a project that he said didn't necessarily need to have had a full blown public presentation.
So he's asked that straightforward applications like these be handled at the staff level, at least on a trial basis over the next year.
"There are a subset of the new towers that I would recommend not come to you and those would be comparable with what you saw at the Exit 29, where they are not located on ridge tops, that they are well-screened, they are backdropped by vegetation, that it's an easy call for me and my staff to say that they're 'substantially invisible.'"
Sengenberger said he would notify commissioners of every tower application received. And commissioners would have the final say over which projects they review.
The initiative passed overwhelmingly with only a single dissenting vote from Commissioner Richard Booth
The Adirondack Council had urged commissioners not to delegate any of its review power to staff. Brian Houseal, the council's executive director, said towers in the park remain a controversial matter.
"We'd prefer that every tower proposal come before the commissioners. If it's the no-brainer, fine - they approve it. But the commissioners should approve these towers."
Cellular carriers Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T have been applying for permits to expand their coverage not only along the Northway but also interior communities. Verizon has been the most aggressive and already has received approval to cover two communities in the High Peaks.
Local government advocates applauded the APA's decision Thursday. Bill Farber of the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages said the park agency is moving in the right direction to help improve cell phone coverage across the park.