Following months of controversy, the public hearing on the proposal by Wireless Edge to build a cellular transmission tower on the Gardiner Highway Garage property at 630 South Mountain Road will be held open for yet another round, continuing on May 3. Attendees at the April 5 Town Board meeting were uniform in their denunciation of the project, largely reacting to visual impacts demonstrated by a second balloon test on March 26.
Most of the public hearing time at the April 12 Town Board meeting was dedicated to a detailed presentation by Bill Johnson, a radio frequency (RF) engineer brought in by Gardiner officials as a consultant. Johnson analyzed the RF coverage data submitted by Wireless Edge, AT&T and Verizon and responded to technical questions that had been raised by Gardiner residents, as well as an attorney a group of them had retained, about the reliability of the applicant’s assessment of the need for a new tower at the proposed location and its likely efficacy.
Johnson’s findings overall supported Wireless Edge’s case, calling the RF coverage values calculated in AT&T and Verizon’s computer modeling “reasonable,” “typical for the area” and “a very reliable predictor.” He noted that the capacity of the Town’s existing cell tower, at Wright’s Farm, had already been exceeded, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic had swollen the numbers of residents working from home and taking classes via Zoom. “If too many people are using it at the same time, the system starts to slow down very drastically. Phone calls get dropped and data slows,” he noted. A second tower higher up the Ridge would “draw traffic away from the saturated service, but it’s not a magic bullet.”
Following an explanation of how “propagation plots” are used in mapping projected demand for RF capacity in an area like Gardiner, Johnson went point-by-point through a list of objections to the South Mountain Road site and alternatives that residents had suggested, in most cases finding these counterarguments less than compelling. He concluded that the “drive tests” that some had demanded to measure the strength of RF signals on Gardiner roads would be no more reliable than the coverage maps already generated. “I do not recommend a drive test,” he stated.
Johnson did note that there was merit in the objection that the tower’s height could be increased by as much as 20 feet if a third carrier, such as T-Mobile, sought to install transmission equipment on it, once it had been approved. Because the Town itself holds the lease for the South Mountain Road site, he said, it would be able to add a restrictive covenant that would cap the tower’s height despite Federal Communications Commission policies on this matter. Town supervisor Marybeth Majestic said that she would follow up with the Town’s attorney on cell tower issues, Victoria Polidoro of Rodenhausen, Chale & Polidoro, LLP, about how to add such an amendment to the existing lease.