‘It Would Encompass All Cellphone Towers’: Selectmen Williams, Corbet Push Again for Reinstitution of Utilities Commission

Saying the town should avail itself of the vast expertise among local residents, especially in light of a divisive proposal to erect a cell tower behind West School, Selectman Nick Williams on Tuesday pushed for the reinstitution of a volunteer body that focuses on utilities. 

The Town Code calls for the establishment of a six-member Utilities Commission, Williams noted during a regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen. Under Section 12-4, the Utilities Commission “is created for the purpose of monitoring the activities and operations of public and private utilities servicing the residents and businesses of New Canaan to ensure that the needs of residences and businesses located in New Canaan are adequately met and that New Canaan’s consumers’ interests are represented before any applicable commission or agency having jurisdiction over the utility in question.”

While First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said that the mission is outdated and can only be updated by the Town Council, Williams said it’s “pretty broad.”

“It would encompass cell phone towers, which I am increasingly coming to the belief that these are antiquated things—150-foot-tall monopoles or whatever you call it—for my purposes seem outdated,” Williams said during the meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference. He added, “To be clear, I’m not coming out against the West School tower. What I’m coming out for is to reconstitute the Utilities Commission.”

“What is your opposition to having an independent Utilities Commission, populated by very bright people in town?” Williams said. “We’ve got 20,000 people in this town, surely—in fact, I know two or three by name who have come to me and said, ‘I would like to be part of a Utilities Commission.’ And certainly if you look at the statute, it would encompass cellphone and tower usage.

Selectmen Williams, Corbet Call for Reinstitution of New Canaan Utilities Commission

Nearly five years after New Canaan’s highest elected official did away with the municipal Utilities Commission by declining to appoint new members, some town officials are calling for its reinstitution. 

In December 2017, one month after winning the first selectman race by 33 votes, Kevin Moynihan said that he wished to dissolve the Utilities Commission while redistributing some of its responsibilities—such as cell coverage, natural gas and solar energy. 

Tom Tesluk, then-chair of the Utilities Commission, had resigned the day after Moynihan narrowly defeated Kit Devereaux. And though Devereaux, who went on to serve as a selectman, argued in favor of preserving the Commission, the volunteer body’s last meeting agenda was posted in December 2018. 

During the Board of Selectmen’s Sept. 20 meeting, Selectman Nick Williams said, “We had talked about repurposing or getting back to a Utilities Commission at some point and I bring that up in the context of the cell phone towers because I think that’s an issue that a robust Utilities Commission could tackle and Lord knows in this town we’ve got experts all over the place that could help out with something like that.”

His comments came during a portion the meeting dedicated to general matters before the town. Moynihan responded that he had attended all meetings of the Utilities Commission for four years while serving on the Town Council “to bird dog cell service.”

This exchange followed:
Moynihan: And Tom Tesluk resigned the day after the election. Williams: So we just gave up?