CONWAY — The Conway Planning Board recently approved a site plan by developers to put up a wireless communication tower on the Morrill tree farm property off East Main Street in Center Conway.
Attorney Francis Parisi of Providence, R.I., representing Vertex Tower Assets LLC/New Cingular Wireless PCS LLC, told the board the tower will be 171 feet from base to the top of the lightning rod.
The site is located off Stritch Road and two logging roads, Parisi said.
Parisi said the company is working with landowners Steve and Olga Morrill, Bradford and Margaret Morrill, and Gary and Caroline Follmer.
“Vertex Tower is what we call a wireless infrastructure development — the names you’ve heard before like Verizon and AT&T are moving out of the real estate business and are partnering with real estate developers like ours to develop infrastructure," he said. "It’s more efficient and more accommodating to multiple developers.”
He said with this project, Vertex is partnering with AT&T, the largest telecommunications company in the United States.
“They are aggressively trying to improve their service in northern and rural New Hampshire,” said Parisi.
He added: “Kind of a silent partner with AT&T in this is the federal government."
Parisi said that several years ago a plan was created to build a national public safety network called FirstNet to be overseen by Congress.
"They’re trying to develop a public safety network for first responders," he said. "What happened is they had a bandwidth, a frequency range that was very valuable to public and commercial telecommunications companies like AT&T, so they auctioned it off, and AT&T was the successful bidder.
“And, AT&T has the right to use these frequencies in times of quiet — and quite frankly, they don’t really need them in North Conway, but they need them in Boston and New York — in major metropolitan areas where their capacity gets tapped in times of emergency such as 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing," Parisi said.
He explained that a mandate that came with the use of those frequencies was building a network where they didn’t have one previously. While AT&T gets to use the tower's frequencies 99 percent of the time, 1 percent of the time, "when there’s a national disaster and or some kind of public safety emergency, public safety can flip a switch and they have priority bandwidth,” Parisi said.
The planning board’s conditional approval is contingent on approval by the town engineer, getting a N.H. Department of Environmental Services wetlands permit and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval.
The deadline is March 26, 2020, said Town Planner Tom Irving.
Several waivers for the 400-acre, wooded site were granted concerning green space, interconnected driveways, parking, landscaping, snow storage and wheelchair access/ADA compliance because the site will not see regular traffic and will be reached via snow machine in winter if visits are required, Irving said.
The planning board’s focus has been on the site and access, as the tower itself was addressed in June by the Zoning Board of Adjustment , which granted special exceptions for the cell tower and minor wetlands crossings.
A required balloon test to visually demonstrate the height of the tower was conducted in June at the site. An abutter who witnessed that test flight told the Sun the tower will be seen only from the parking lot of Ceramco, which is located off Route 302 in Center Conway.
There was no public comment about the cell tower at the meeting.
In response to a question from board member Ray Shakir about whether the new tower would alleviate a blackout area in that part of Center Conway, and whether it would be open to multiple phone carriers, Parisi said yes to both questions.
“We are agnostic (in terms of carriers we serve) and we are basically a vertical real estate company and this will end dropoffs absolutely,” said Parisi.
Construction is expected to take six weeks, but once built, the tower site will be passive and unmanned, he said. It will be visited once a month or as needed.
He said the actual tower will be a lattice type in keeping with design improvements over the past decade.
Plans for the project are on file with the Conway Town Hall's Planning Department.