Bell Hill Road in Otisfield is the most recent location for a proposed communications tower to be constructed. Only about 30% of Otisfield residents have cell phone and internet reception, provided by towers located in Harrison and Oxford. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

OTISFIELD — The Planning Board held a hearing held Tuesday night for public comment on Verizon Wireless’ proposal to construct a communications tower on property at 264 Bell Hill Road. Concerns varied from supportive to opposed, with one resident pleading the case to have a tower built on her land instead.

That resident, Virgina Arsenault, was the first to address the attorney representing Robert Balistreri, the owner of 264 Bell Hill Road. Arsenault, who has 200 acres of property at 19 East Swampville Road, also holds a lease with Verizon for a possible tower. But Verizon chose the Bell Hill location because a tower could be built there almost half the height.

Several other residents asked for clarification on the visibility and height of the tower. Public safety workers spoke of the risks the public faces because of poor reception throughout the town.

Resident Kristin Roy pointed out that some of the language in Otisfield’s Wireless Telecommunications Facilities Ordinance was in conflict with the Maine law Planning and Land Use Regulation Act (Title 30-A, M.R.S.A. §4312). She proposed that that the ordinance be given a legal review and revision before any tower could be approved.

Later during the hearing Roy spoke again, stating she was speaking as Otisfield’s representative to SAD 17’s school board, clarifying that she was not speaking for the school board but the town. She then read a lengthy statement about the importance of cell phone service for vulnerable children who have not been able to adequately participate in remote learning.

Roy stated that an independent third party should be contracted to survey the town’s population and assess where a communications tower should be located with regards to where students reside and prioritize those locations accordingly.

After she exceeded her allotted time of three minutes to speak, Otisfield resident Kyle Jordan, who was running the Zoom conference technology as a volunteer, interrupted, asking Planning Board Secretary Karen Turino to determine point of Roy’s remarks and pointing out that since the start of the hearing Roy had been at the microphone for 15-20 minutes.

“As a resident of the town of Otisfield, I ask that Ms. Roy get to the point or to her question as our school board representative so that we can move onto our planning board meeting,” Jordan said. “I am asking for point of order.”

Roy argued that she was speaking to the health and safety of Otisfield children. One person retorted that that was not what the hearing was about. She reiterated that it was important to gather the information needed to determine the validity and accuracy of the setting.

Roy spoke for several more minutes before Turino told her she had exceeded her time and cut her off.

Jordan then read a ZOOM message from SAD 17 School Board Chairperson Diana Olsen, also a resident of Otisfield, stating that Roy had not been authorized to speak for the board of directors, that there had been no board discussion on the subject and the board had not delegated her as the voice of SAD 17’s board.

As she sat down Roy asserted that she had been denied the ability to speak at the planning board meetings and told to address her concerns at the hearing.

“I would like the record to show that I am denied the right to speak now,” Roy said. “Please make sure that’s in the minutes.”

The hearing was closed after the next speaker and the planning board immediately began its regularly scheduled meeting, which consisted of reviewing the application to approve or adjust Verizon’s application. The meeting continued until 9 p.m., at which point Turino adjourned for the night. Continuation of the application review will resume at the next meeting, scheduled for April 13 at 7 p.m. at the Otisfield Community Hall.

Turino also stated the board would schedule a workshop in the future to address the state law and ordinance conflicts Roy had pointed out earlier in the evening.

 

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