Editorial: Too many questions in Westport cell tower plan

Posted 8/10/21

Given the many questions still unanswered and the possible alternatives still unexplored, it is hard to see another option for the Westport Zoning Board of Appeals than to reject as presented a plan …

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Editorial: Too many questions in Westport cell tower plan

Posted

Given the many questions still unanswered and the possible alternatives still unexplored, it is hard to see another option for the Westport Zoning Board of Appeals than to reject as presented a plan to site a large cell tower at Drift and Masquesatch roads.

Few proposals in recent memory have inspired such contempt among area residents, who worry that the massive steel structure would be an eyesore amid the area's bucolic farmland, waterfront and centuries-old homes. They have not been quiet about it, and with reason. Such a tower would be a jarring addition to a landscape that has been carefully stewarded by generations of residents who hold the area's stunning natural beauty and history close, and fiercely protect it.

The tower's proponents say the tower will vastly improve communication in the area, and that is true. But without fulling vetting alternative sites, including Tripps' Marina and properties on Horseneck and further up Route 88, without looking at creative solutions, and without exploring lower tower heights or different arrays that could possibly do the job, there is no way to know whether the five zoning variances and special use permit sought are the least zoning relief possible.

A consultant hired by the town, and paid for by the applicant, said as much in a recent report on the proposal. Despite months of meetings during which board members pored over dozens of documents and listened to hours of testimony, he argues that they still don't have the supporting data they need to fully vet the applicants' claims.

Lacking during all that time, it appears, has been a willingness to speak to those who have come to the plate with alternate plans. When options and alternatives have been presented, all the town has heard so far is "No, No, No," one zoning board member said.

Why not?

Zoning board are charged with carefully weighing the balance of public good vs. private property rights. While federal law gives telecommunications providers much leeway to site projects where service is lacking, it does not give them a blank check to put what they want, where they want. Cellular service can be better in this part of Westport, but applicants need to prove that their plans do not do more harm than good, and that lower zoning relief isn't possible.

It is past time to go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that all of Westport can live and grow with, or prove that there is no alternative.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.