Officials with the company that owns the water towers at Waveny—tall structures that double as a site for wireless equipment from five cellular companies as well as New Canaan’s emergency radio gear—say that though the antennas ultimately must be removed, they’re working with the town to ensure that there’s no gap in service.
Aquarion has “already verbally offered to the town that we will leave the antennas on the tank for an additional year,” meaning New Canaan will have until November 2019 to see through an early-stage plan to erect its own tower at the park for the wireless infrastructure, according to Peter Fazekas, the company’s director of public relations.
“That will be adequate [for New Canaan] to build a tower and transfer the antennas,” Fazekas told NewCanaanite.com. “The goal here is to find a good solution. We cannot keep them on our tank, so we are looking for a good solution.”
Asked just why the equipment needs to come off of the water towers, Fazekas said, “It is causing problems with maintenance on the infrastructure.”
“We are supposed to do a complete repaint of the tank and we had to cancel that because we could not get all the cell companies to get their equipment off the tank, so we had to cancel that,” he said. “Going forward, we are simply not renewing these cell antenna agreements on infrastructure. We are doing this with all of them. I just would stress that we are working with the town to ensure that there is no gap in service.”
The prospect of losing a huge swath of cellular coverage in New Canaan as well as its emergency radio communications is pressing for town officials. Earlier this year, members of the Utilities Commission explored the idea of erecting a tower alongside the water towers but on public property. That concern has emerged as a safety priority while New Canaan also seeks to address a lack of cell service in some parts of town—a complicated matter in itself.
The comments come days after New Canaan Town Attorney Ira Bloom sent a letter to Aquarion, asserting that under an agreement with the town, the water company may not remove wireless gear from the towers without the municipality’s consent.
In his Sept. 5 letter to Aquarion’s director of real estate, Bloom said the antennas on the water towers “serve an extremely valuable function for New Canaan residents, not only providing emergency communication services, but providing quality cellular service to a wide area.”
“The removal of these commercial and town antennas without an adequate replacement will cause a severe hardship for the town and its residents,” he said.
Further, according to Bloom, a 1998 agreement between New Canaan and Aquarion’s predecessor includes a section that “provides that Aquarion can terminate any tower lease with or without cause ‘subject to the approval of the town, which approval will not be unreasonably withheld.’ ”
“As of this date, the town has not approved the termination of the tower lease for the commercial telecommunications companies. Further, the value of maintaining these commercial telecommunications antennas to the town is extremely high, until such time as the town finds some suitable alternative.”
As such, Bloom said, “this letter is to advise you that the town has not approved the termination of any leases, nor has the town consented to Aquarion’s apparent refusal to negotiate with the telecommunications carriers for additional leased time on the water tank.” “The town looks forward to hearing from you so that we can continue this discussion leading to an extension of the leases until such time as the town reasonably approves their removal,” Bloom said in his letter.
However, Fazekas said, Aquarion holds contracts with five cell companies that use the tower and four of those are expiring.
“We are not terminating them—they are at the end of their contract and so we would not renew them, so because of that we do not need town approval, because they’re not being renewed,” Fazekas said.
“There is a fifth that would be terminated and we would need the town’s approval,” he added.
That exception is Clearwire, according to Fazekas.
As far as New Canaan’s emergency communications equipment goes, “we let the town put them on our tank—there is no contract,” Fazekas said.