WATERFORD – The Planning Board unanimously approved an application for a cell tower Wednesday, after determining that the applicant met several review standards.

The 180-foot unlit tower would be situated on Rice Hill, which has an elevation of 1,318 feet, in a 1,000- by 1,000-foot compound on property leased from Richard and Alta Rice. The tower is being proposed by ATC Realty of Portland and Unicel, with Global Tower Partners as a joint development partner.

Blaine Hopkins, who represented ATC, said the Rice Hill site will provide coverage to 80 to 85 percent of Waterford and could link with towers in neighboring towns. Hopkins said that while some southern areas of Waterford will not receive coverage from the tower, a proposed tower development in a neighboring community would be able to fill in any dead zones.

Hopkins said the project has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Communications Commission, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

“They have determined that there is no adverse impact,” Hopkins said of a report from the latter. “We do meet all those criteria.”

Hopkins said Unicel approved a budget last year to construct a tower by the end of 2008. He said the money for the project must be spent by the end of the year, and is hoping for approval by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection by Nov. 1. He said the tower could be put up within eight weeks.

Ray Merrill, an assistant fire chief, recalled two serious car accidents in town when emergency communications coverage was inadequate. He said one woman died of head trauma after a winter crash.

“Maybe if we’d been able to call LifeFlight at that time, her chances would have been 30 percent better,” he said.

Tim Fanning, the chairman of the Planning Board, read three letters from the Fire Department, Oxford County Sheriff’s Office and Stoneham Rescue. All three of the services supported the tower project, saying it would help bolster communications in the event of an emergency in Waterford.

The approval is conditional, and will be finalized at a future meeting pending confirmation by the DEP. The approval also allows the fire department to have antenna space on the top of the tower, provided it does not increase the tower’s height past 200 feet, at which point lighting would be required.

The approval also includes a bond to be renewed annually to cover any costs if the tower is removed in the future.

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