STARKS — A Massachusetts-based wireless communications company that plans to build a cellphone tower on a hill overlooking town is meeting some opposition from residents surrounding the proposed site, including the hosts of an annual pro-marijuana festival.

Cindy and Harry Brown, who live at 45 Abijah Hill Road, are located across the street from the proposed site of the tower, a project of Bay Communications II LLC based in Manchester, Mass.

Harry Brown built his house on the 80-acre property in 1980 and has been farming the land there ever since.

“We live outside. It’s not like we live here and then we go to work somewhere else. The land is our home and our living,” said Cindy Brown, 53.

From the front porch of their home, she could point to the proposed location of the tower, wiping away tears as she imagined looking up at the structure from her garden and the large stage used for the festivals.

The Browns, along with a handful of other residents on their road, recently received a notice telling them that Bay Communications plans to construct a 195-foot-tall cellphone tower on the property across the road. That property is owned by Claire and Mark Nelson, but they live on the far side of the 50-acre parcel, so the Brown’s home would be the closest house to the site.

Along with some of their neighbors on Abijah Hill Road, the Browns are worried about the visual and health impact of the cellphone tower so close to their home, but others say the town needs better cellphone coverage and can benefit from the tower with few harmful effects.

Paul Frederic, first selectman and member of the town’s Comprehensive Plan Committee, said the tower fits appropriately into the town’s vision for the future.

“It has the possibility of being contentious,” he said. “I know there are citizens that are frustrated because they can’t make a phone call, but I also understand the perspective of not wanting it in your immediate backyard.”

Public hearing

A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Starks Community Center with a meeting of the Planning Board to follow, at which the Bay Communications application will be considered.

There will also be a public meeting at 7 p.m. tonight at the Starks Church organized by Cindy and Harry Brown.

Bay Communications submitted its application for the tower, which would provide cellphone coverage by AT&T Wireless to the surrounding area, to the Planning Board on June 5. 

According to its application, Bay Communications said it has already entered into a long-term lease agreement with Claire and Mark Nelson, the land’s owners, to put the tower on the north end of Abijah Hill Road.

The Manchester-based company owns cell towers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York. In Maine, it has one operating tower in Prospect Harbor, but numerous others in the permit and construction phase, according to the website. A permit has been approved for a tower in Cornville, and it is in the process of getting a permit in Hope.

Construction would take about six weeks and would start immediately if the application is approved Wednesday.

However, the company’s website also says that construction has already started on the Starks project. A spokesman for Bay Communications did not return a call Monday.

Kerry Hebert, chairman of the Starks Planning Board, said he is not aware of any work begun yet on the project. On Monday, there were no obvious signs that any construction had begun.

A map of the proposed site shows a 100-foot-by-100-foot foundation supporting the tower, with a new gravel access road connecting to Abijah Hill Road. Once completed, it would initially house Northeast Wireless, an affiliate of AT&T Wireless, but the application states that Bay could collect up to five additional carriers.

“The tower would insure optimal coverage for AT&T in the town of Starks, providing an improved coverage area. We will aggressively pursue other wireless carriers to bring the same voice and data improvements to be enjoyed by their customers in and around Starks,” the company’s application states.

It also states that while the tower will be visible above the tree line in some areas, the impact should be minimized by the fact that it will be built in a wooded area.

Dashed dreams all around

Mark Nelson said he has leased one acre of his land to Bay for five years under a contract that is renewable for up to 50 years. He would not say how much money the land is being leased for.

Nelson, 58, said he was approached by a representative from Bay Communications several months ago about the land.

“Everyone uses cellphones, but we can barely get a connection. I can’t get texts out in a world that pretty much runs on cellphones,” said Nelson.

He said the tower would be an improvement for the town and that the visual impact would be minimal.

It would likely be visible to people in town, but there are few places in the world where cell towers are not part of the landscape, Nelson said.

He said that when he bought the property 35 years ago he initially intended to put a house on top of the hill, near the proposed tower site, but was deterred in recent years because of the nearby marijuana festivals hosted by the Browns.

In 1991 Harry Brown started volunteering his land for an annual gathering supporting marijuana law reform that has since grown to include three yearly festivals.

“It was a lovely view, but the pot parties dashed my dreams,” Nelson said.

The Browns say the same thing about the proposed tower. They are worried about the effect it will have on their festivals, where the motto is “Come Home to the Hill.” The three annual festivals are Harry’s Hoe Down, the Green Love Festival and The Harvest Ball.

“Who is going to want to come here? When we say ‘Come home to the hill,’ we are inviting people to celebrate the beauty of the land. Now that hill will have a cancer-radiating tower on it,” said Cindy Brown.

The Browns, along with Harry’s daughter Elizabeth Smedberg, who lives nearby and opposes the tower, are not the only ones worried.

Maurice Martin, associate professor of community health education at the University of Maine at Farmington, recently bought a home on Abijah Hill Road.

“I just found out about the tower. Had I known before, we might have made a different decision about buying this property,” said Martin, who was a research scientist at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta before coming to Maine.

He does not own a cellphone and said he is worried about the association between heavy cellphone use and hormone problems, including decreases in testosterone in young men. He said the widespread use of cellphones has been long enough for substantive research on health effects.

“What we have is an association,” Martin said. “I can’t say there are any causes or links, but there is a hypothesis for research to be done.”

Rachel Ohm —  612-2368
[email protected]

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