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UDC pans Damascus cell towers

By David Hulse
December 11, 2013

After a lengthy December 5 debate, the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) approved a letter to Damascus Township warning that two Verizon broadband cell towers awaiting final local approvals will not meet River Management Plan (RMP) standards.

The UDC letter concluded that “By definition, the proposed towers will represent major commercial development, which is listed as an Incompatible Use in both Scenic and Recreational sections of the Upper Delaware boundaries.”

The letter, which was scheduled for review at a subsequently cancelled UDC committee meeting in November, will now arrive after the end of a township comment period on the project.

Jeffrey Dexter, who chairs both the UDC and Damascus Township Supervisors, said the township board will “still look at it.”

Dexter abstained from voting on its approval.

He noted that UDC concerns voiced in the letter were already on record from a November 25 public hearing on the project.

The debate followed anticipated directions with the preservation of the valley’s view-scape competing with an almost universal desire for increased cellular phone service.

The issue had members arguing both sides of the issue at various points.

Hancock’s Fred Peckham early on noted that under the existing guidelines in the RMP, the council must reject the project, but later in the debate he added that “the RMP is not a preservation plan, but a conservation plan and certain things should be allowed to grow.”

Cell service was largely unknown when the RMP was written and National Park Service Superintendent Sean McGuinness has been calling for the council to consider reviewing and updating the plan.

However, McGuinness said Thursday that, “The RMP applies to the whole valley’s quality of life—its scenic quality to be experienced in the whole valley… At some point the council is going to have to make a decision on preserving the quality of life. Verizon isn’t looking at this.”

The council’s letter warned that the hilltop tower locations are “both located entirely within the designated congressional boundary; and both could be considered a significant eyesore for township residents and the easterly neighbors in New York State.”

The UDC advised that alternatives should be considered such as “other tall structures as well as proposed and existing towers that are not as conspicuous or in as sensitive of an area…. ”