Cell tower impact study finalized in town of New Paltz

Town of New Paltz Planning Board members are working through an environmental review that’s unusually detailed for the type of project, having required an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the cell tower that’s proposed for 60 Jansen Road. Among the questions board members wanted studied in detail are the impacts of this tower on views, as well as the fate of the trees and animals that will be affected by construction. The totality of concerns were enough for board members to make a declaration of environmental significance, triggering the preparation of an EIS. The scope of what was to be studied was agreed upon after a public hearing, and then the applicant returned with a draft of the statement to get additional feedback, as required by law. The next step is for each of the comments made by members of the public on the DEIS to get a substantive response, and it’s those responses that board members were reviewing at their July 26 meeting.

Board attorney Rick Golden told the volunteers that they can change the tone of the responses as well as the content of this draft, which was also prepared by the applicant’s consultants. In particular, Golden pointed out that dismissing a comment as not being relevant is not a substantive response. Some of the comments raised questions about the impacts of emissions on humans or wildlife, and rather than brushing them off in this way, the attorney suggested specifically noting that federal law precludes some of this analysis at the local level.

After some discussion, the wording about visual impacts was boiled down to acknowledging that the tower will be visible in some places, but not all of the ones studied; for example, a second balloon test to simulate the mass of the tower could not be seen from some locations near the Ridge. There will be continued impacts, however.

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Of the trees that have the minimum 12-inch diameter to be counted, 15 will meet their doom if this plan is executed. An alternative that would bring the project closer to the road would increase the visual impact of the tower, and consultants believe 15 is a small number to kill given the benefits of providing more reliable cellular coverage in the area. No other sites in the community, including on campus or in the wireless overlay district along Route 299, would provide the coverage being sought with this project.

Board members agreed to adopt the final EIS, but take the next step — issuing their findings — for at least ten days.