‘It’s That Dire’: Town Pursues Backup Plan To Erect Standalone Cell Site by Water Towers at Waveny

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.

Water towers at Waveny. Credit: Michael Dinan

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.”

7 thoughts on “‘It’s That Dire’: Town Pursues Backup Plan To Erect Standalone Cell Site by Water Towers at Waveny

  1. Maybe the town would have the money to fix the Vine Cottage if they hadn’t done a “sweetheart ” deal with Mr. Jones for over $400,000, wasting town monies for property that was not worth the amount paid. As a taxpayer I am getting more and more uncomfortable with the decision making and judgement of our”leaders”

  2. Dear All,
    Since Regulated water utilities are a monopoly, they are entitled to a “Regulated Rate of Return.” No more, no less.
    This means that, if Aquarion hypothetically sold unneeded land for a profit, pressure is taken off raising normal customer water rates (due to inflation or capital expenditures on infrastructure) because their return is fixed (no windfalls are allowed). This also infers that if Aquarion does not renew the leases with the carriers because the logistics of antennae and water tower maintenance (i.e., painting the tank) is too cumbersome because folks may, or may not, have had discussions in months, antennas will eventually come down and Aquarion will have to increase water rates across their entire water customer base if they want to earn the regulated rate of return the company is entitled to. The conclusion will be: (i) all of Aquarion’s water customers will be annoyed because they unnecessarily have to pay more for water; (ii) the carriers will have to find a new home for their antennas if they want to remain in business in a section of New Canaan which is time consuming at best and subject to all sorts of legal and environmental complications; and (iii) the NC Police/Fire/EMTs will find a new home for their antenna(s) on Town land or other suitable location which no taxpayer should object to. What it does not mean is that New Canaan is obligated to engage in commercial real estate development for cellular equipment. Commercial real estate development for cellular service by a Town should not be in the charter and the CT Siting Council process will take a lot longer than the expiration of water tower antenna leases and painting, assuming a piece of land was even available for a cellular tower. Moreover, it will have to be proven there is not a better alternative to a new tower (i.e., simply painting a tank and renewing leases). Therefore, since we all want a “win win” ending, it behooves Aquarion and the Carriers to sort out painting logistics ASAP. Otherwise, Aquarion water rates eventually will go up unnecessarily, carriers lose coverage and revenues unnecessarily, and the NC Police/Fire and EMTs will find a simple antenna on New Canaan property which no taxpayer should object to. If New Canaan unnecessarily seeks to complicate Fire, Police and EMT communication with the telecommunications industry, New Canaan will be thrown into the implications of unwarranted commercial real estate development of town land when the carriers have every right to use the state highway right of way along with all the other electric, cable, fiber optic and telephone utilities. Sounds like getting the water tower properly maintained is in everyone’s best interests including the clients and shareholders of Aquarion and the Carriers, to say nothing about the taxpayers of New Canaan. Let’s get it done, make our collective constituencies proud, and find a real issue to solve!

  3. Just a fact or two to add to the discussion, back in 1987 when the Town conveyed the 120 square foot parcel that allowed the New Canaan Water Company to construct the 2000000 gallon stand pipe (water tower) at Lapham Park, as part of the deal, the water company agreed to allow the Town to place it’s public safety radio antennas on the new stand pipe free of charge. Later when the water company successor company sought permission to put cellular radio antennas on the tower, the Town agreed in return for half of the fees charged by the water company to the cellular phone companies. Because the 1987 deed contains a reversion of title to the parcel back to the Town if the property is used for other than a water tower the agreement waived this provision for the cellular antennas. The Selectmen also have approval authority of all structures on the site.

  4. Regrettably, I have not read the deed so it is good to learn this additional information. If the above is true, it would appear logical that the town and Aquarion should be able to agree that the tower and emergency antennas continue to coexist. Perhaps the emergency antenna situation is not “dire” just like the Outback Building is still standing too despite quotes in the New Canaanite that town officials called an initial report on the structural integrity of that building to be “pretty damning.” If the Selectmen have approval authority “for all structures on the site,” that would include water towers with and without emergency antennas. I optimistically have the utmost confidence that a meeting between our senior Town Leaders and senior management of Aquarion will result in a repainted water tower and emergency communications remaining in place as they should.

  5. So why exactly do city “leaders” think the cell tower HAS to be by the water tower? Why does the city need to have the lease?A private citizen has as much right to get that contract and have the tower on their land and make that money.

    Insisting it be so close to/on a water tower- they do realize that seeps the water in electromagnetic radiation? Is it near a school? Homes? Is that the idea?

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