Saying the owner of the Waveny water towers appears unwilling to renew leases with four wireless carriers whose antennas are perched atop one of them, town officials on Tuesday pursued a backup plan to erect a new standalone cell site in the same area.
The Board of Selectmen voted 3-0 to amend the town’s contract with a Danbury-based wireless solutions company so that it can design and build a tower or other infrastructure there that not only provides cell service to a wide swath of the town but also carries New Canaan’s primary radio transmitter for all emergency services.
It appears that Aquarion, which owns the towers and the land they’re built on “has no appetite to renew” its leases with AT&T Wireless, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile, First Selectman Rob Mallozzi said at the meeting, held in Town Hall.
“This is the right and proactive approach that the town must take so that we are not caught in 2018 with not serving one-third of our community with cell service and the entire community with radio emergency,” he said. “It’s that dire.”
Flagged by town officials last summer and made public in September after Mallozzi and others worked for months to facilitate communications between the two parties, the threat that wireless service gear will come off of the water towers grows more real as time passes and the end of the carriers’ leases approach.
Some of the leases will expire next year, New Canaan Utilities Commission Chairman Tom Tesluk said.
“This puts the town in a very precarious situation,” Tesluk said.
The commission “feels it is no longer prudent to ‘wait and see’ but we need to move forward with an alternative site that would be located approximate to the water tower,” he said.
The amendment to the agreement with Homeland Towers LLC allows the company to create a plan and design for a new cell site at the water towers and the new infrastructure would become part of a master lease agreement that the town negotiated last summer, Tesluk said.
Aquarion had planned to repaint its water towers last summer, and in order to do that an elaborate plan was developed to move the wireless gear temporarily onto scaffolding, with an eye on replacing it once the painting was done. Public works officials and volunteers such as New Canaanite Stuart Sawabini were involved in “extensive conversations” with Aquarion about that process, Mallozzi said.
But the water company ultimately decided not to paint the tower, and then carriers informed officials here that they were unsure whether Aquarion would renew their leases. Officials with the water company have been invited to address the matter at public meetings in New Canaan, and those offers have garnered no response, town officials have said.
“Looking forward, it’s never ideal if the town’s critical infrastructure is dependent on another landowner,” Tesluk said. “Aquarion owns that land. It puts us in a position where even if we can solve the issue today, 20 years from now the town government could find itself back in the same place.”