By DANA BARON
On Thursday, May 14, a small but interested group gathered for our third Section Members Meeting. The featured speaker was Lars Botzojorns, GMC interim executive director. He spoke about the many complicated issues surrounding the spread of communications towers on the hills and mountains that surround us. From Lars' presentation we learned that
- Federal law allows local governments to control tower placement and construction, but not to restrict or prohibit tower construction.
- Companies wanting to construct towers take advantage of this federal legislation to pressure local governments into acting quickly in giving permits for towers.
- Economic and technical considerations combine to drive tower construction onto prominent hill and mountain summits where they are visible and unsightly.
Locally, Mt. Mansfield has been the focus of much discussion about tower construction. Last year, the Federal government lowered the threshold for what it considered safe exposure to broadcast waves. As a result, the Triangle Trail over the nose on Mt. Mansfield was closed because it was found that broadcasts from the antenna for Vermont Public Television exceeded the new limits along parts of the trail. Vermont Public Television plans to move the antenna but meanwhile the trail remains closed.
Also last year, issues arose surrounding the stipulations in the deed granting the University of Vermont the land atop Mt. Mansfield. According to the deed, the land must be used by the University for educational purposes only. Some people question whether communication towers constitute an educational use of the land. If it is decided that these towers cannot be on UVM land, then they would have to be moved to the area around the Summit Station.
What does the future hold for tower construction? The answer is elusive. It depends largely on public pressures, legislative and judicial decisions, and perhaps most importantly, new technology. There are signs that technology could shrink the size of towers and move them out of sight, eliminating at least one major issue in tower placement.