Action by residents and the Board of Selectmen has resulted in a number of concrete steps against the proposed monopoles along the MBTA train tracks in town. The proposed 70’ towers with antenna extending another 4 feet are part of an effort to improve WiFi service on the trains with the option of additional telecommunication purposes that the MBTA is advancing with their selected private vendor.
Three locations in town have been formally identified (17 Boardman Ave., 6 Tuck’s Point Road and 21 Summer Street.) A fourth location in the eastern part of town is likely though an original location in the Ledgewood Circle area has not been advanced and we wait to hear for a possible new location. (These monopoles are separate from the 30 foot poles/antennas needed for the Positive Train Control system that is being installed this summer. Numerous requests to the MBTA for details on the location of these have yet to be answered.)
Over 60 letters from residents expressing concerns about the towers were collected within a brief 48 hour period. These letters were included in a letter that the Selectmen sent to the Governor, the Secretary of Transportation, the General Manger of the MBTA, the Massachusetts Historic Preservation Office and our federal and state legislators. The Selectmen requested that a more thorough review of the project be undertaken and that alternative, less intrusive technology be pursued along with collocation options –using existing structures rather than installing new monopoles.
In addition, the Selectmen and the Historic District Commission asked the state office of Historic Preservation to undertake a more detailed study of the impacts the poles will have on our historic assets. A photo simulation and a balloon test to ascertain what properties will be able to see the new towers should be completed. Under federal law, the project must not pose an adverse impact on historic assets. As currently proposed we feel this standard is not being met. (The proposed monopoles are exempt from local review except for wetland impact review. Other state and federal environmental regulations apply.)
The Selectmen also have requested that the MBTA attend a future meeting of the Board to give a presentation on the proposed project and hear comments from the public. We do not have a date for this yet but have been told that the earliest we can expect such a meeting in late July. We continue to push for something sooner.
A number of residents and I attended a meeting of the MBTA finance management control board this past Tuesday where an update on the WiFi project was on the agenda. A number of us were able to provide oral and written comments to the control board as they took public comments for over an hour. Manchester and Andover were well represented at the meeting. The Board listened to the numerous concerns people conveyed and they asked a series of questions to the MBTA staff. Detailed responses to their questions are to be presented at a future control board meeting, most likely to be held on July 17.
The project proponents had hoped to have all their needed state and federal permits in hand by the end of July. Given the concerns that are being raised this seems unlikely. At the control board meeting, MBTA staff indicated that construction of the WiFi towers is not likely this summer.
Efforts to get additional communities more engaged in the review of the proposed towers are also underway. Invitations to mayors and managers along the MBTA corridors were sent out last week. Andover quickly mobilized against the towers. We have followed their lead and are encouraging other communities to do so as well. The Selectmen have been asking Town Counsel for guidance on the legal aspects of the project and will continue to pursue various legal questions to see which ones might be beneficial to us.
Unfortunately this project is another example of the MBTA not engaging communities early on in the process. This lack of early outreach means we are coming to the table late in the game but there is still time to influence the outcome. Your engagement as well is encouraged. For more specifics on the project and information on who you can write, go to the Town’s web-site.