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Mobile service plans proceed

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Long dark areas in Roe Jan could see cell service with new towers

COPAKE–Balloon tests, public hearings and new applications are all part of the ongoing effort to get a network of cell towers in place across the southeastern portion of Columbia County.

Mariner Tower II, LLC has erected two towers in recent months, one at Catamount in South Egremont, MA, (there is already a tower on the Copake side of the mountain) the other in Martindale. The company has a cell tower application pending for a site in West Copake and another in the works for a site in Ancram.

Coverage provided by existing towers will connect with coverage provided by the new towers in a move to bring cell phone service to an area previously plagued by a lack of reception. But the region still has areas where no signal is available, and while the new towers would provide or improve service around the hamlets of Copake and Ancram, at least one coverage map indicates that significant sections along the southern part of Route 22 in the county as well as in the hilly terrain in that region will still lack access to over-the-air communications.

A balloon test, designed to illustrate the visual impact of the proposed cell tower at 3124 County Route 7 on the Ezra Link, Jr., property in West Copake, is scheduled for next Wednesday, August 24.

Between 7 a.m. and noon, weather permitting, two weather balloons, each three-feet in diameter will be floated to heights of 150 feet and 165 feet at the proposed site. If the weather doesn’t cooperate the test will happen the next day or the next.

A prior informal balloon test July 21, revealed the tower will be most visible from the area of Snyder Pond, Sky Farm and High Meadow roads.

Since the July 28 meeting of the Copake Zoning Board of Appeals, Mariner Tower representative Chris Ciolfi has changed the proposed tower location to an alternate site 400 feet southeast of the original site, which removes the need for a setback variance from the nearest resident.

Peter Reed, who is the nearest resident, spoke during the public hearing and asked the ZBA not to grant the tower applicants’ a setback variance and objected to the negative visual impact the tower will have on “that pristine hillside.”

Since the change to the alternate site drops the tower’s ground elevation by 18 feet, Mr. Ciolfi has increased the tower height he is asking for from 150 to 165 feet.  The law only allows for a 125-foot tower, so a height variance from the ZBA is still needed. The cell tower application is also before the Copake Planning Board for site plan approval.

The Planning Board has received a biodiversity assessment of the cell tower site, which finds “relatively little impact” by the tower on the site. The report mentions that a bog turtle habitat is likely nearby, but can be accommodated.

Planning Board Chair Marcia Becker told The Columbia Paper this week that the board had no concerns based on that report or the questions raised by the board’s radio frequency engineer. What still needs to be clarified is the issue of “adequate coverage.” Mrs. Becker said the applicant believes the tower meets the standard set forth in the law, but that Town Attorney Tal Rappleyea has yet to weigh in on the matter.

The Planning Board will conduct its own public hearing on the tower application September 1, 7 p.m. at the Town Hall. Meanwhile, the ZBA’s public hearing resumes at its August 25 meeting.

The Ancram Town Board, Planning Board and ZBA will take part in a special joint meeting August 23 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall for a “pre-application discussion.” Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin said the meeting will be informational and Mr. Ciolfi will be there to talk about his tentative plans to put a cell tower in Ancram.

Mr. Bassin said the last time he spoke to Mr. Ciolfi, a couple of weeks ago, a tower was planned for a parcel on the northeast side of Route 82, near the Gallatin town line.

Mr. Ciolfi could not be reached by press deadline, but a packet of information he provided to local officials contains a color map indicating existing and planned towers on the network his company is building here. The map appears to show strong signal strength in and around Copake and Ancram hamlets near where the new towers would be built; but long stretches of Route 22 as well as the Taconic Ridge and the rolling hills to the west of the highway would have spotty access to cell phone service.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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