Last month, the Reading, MA Select Board ordered Town Manager Robert LeLacheur and Town Hall managers to put a hold on plans to construct a new tower near a 63-year-old elevated water storage tank. Currently, the 110-foot tall tank houses carrier equipment. Until a new agreement is reached, the Town Engineer Ryan Percival and Department of Public Works (DPW) managers can’t proceed with replacing the old water tank, reported Middlesex East.
LeLacheur and Percival, poised to break ground on a new tank replacement in summer 2021, have explored alternatives to the proposed tower, all of which have been denied by carriers. According to Middlesex East, T-Mobile and AT&T are unwilling to construct a tower on behalf of the town “due to security or logistical concerns.” The carriers have already invested $1.3 million in equipment and leasing space on the tank since 2010. Before beginning the water tank project, Reading will need to erect a temporary structure to house antennas that will cost the same as a permanent one.
“It was expressed by every carrier who responded that there were no alternative sites that would replace the current water tank location,” according to Percival. “The location of the tower, temporary or permanent, has to be coordinated with the construction of the water tank.”
The estimated cost to Reading for a temporary tower is between $250,000 – $500,000, noted Percival. He added that the town would shoulder the expenses over the two years it will take to construct the new water tank.
Conversely, if the town keeps the water tank, it can require telecommunications companies to foot the construction bill as part of new multi-year leases, reported Middlesex East. In this scenario, town officials estimate it would take approximately four years to recoup costs of a permanent structure under the current contract, which includes a 40 percent allocation of projected future lease revenues. According to lease projections based on this percentage, Reading will earn $95,000 to $110,00 a year in additional lease income.
Although the Select Board originally approved $500,000 in funding for the tower project in April 2018, it later reversed its decision and stripped the capital budget funds. Then, in the spring of 2019, $4.5 million was appropriated for a revised plan presented by LeLacheur. That plan never got off the ground due to concerns over the existing carrier leases, neighborhood opposition, and the town’s refusal to take on a permanent tower structure.
Since then, the Select Board has gone back and forth with LeLacheur, and the telecoms on a solution, reported Middlesex East. In August, when residents caught wind that talk had been resurrected around the tower project, protests erupted.
Neighbors decried that a lack of notice has been the hallmark of this tower project. “I find it very appalling that I had to hear this news from my good neighbors and not the town itself…Two years ago, I needed a variance for 11-inches on a deck and had to send out 42 letters to the surrounding houses…The town manager/engineer is trying to install a 200-foot tower and I have received no letter,” resident Brian Anderson penned in a letter to the Select Board.
As a next step, the Select Board has instructed LeLacheur to present alternative solutions in December.
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