Interveners in AT&T lawsuit with Heath seek negotiations outside of court

  • Interveners and other residents at Heath’s Selectboard meeting on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

  • The Heath Selectboard meets with interveners in its lawsuit with AT&T on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

  • From left, Town Coordinator Hilma Sumner and Kate Peppard, a member of the interveners, at Heath’s Selectboard meeting on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer
Published: 8/17/2022 6:18:41 PM
Modified: 8/17/2022 6:15:14 PM

HEATH — The group of “interveners” involved in the town’s litigation with AT&T, which had hoped to build a 180-foot cell tower, approached the Selectboard on Tuesday asking to move forward with informally moderated discussions, rather than the now-planned court case.

Selectboard Chair Robyn Provost-Carlson told the interveners they are welcome to approach AT&T without the Selectboard. Additionally, a meeting between all three parties is set for Sept. 14, where they will decide dates for the next stages of the court case.

The situation started last September when the Planning Board denied AT&T’s application to build a 180-foot tower on a 100-acre parcel on Knott Road with frontage on Rowe Road. The land is owned by John Metallica, who lives in Greenfield. AT&T would lease the property.

During four hearings, the Planning Board heard many comments from neighbors about property values and the impact a cell tower would have on the town’s rural character, citing an adverse aesthetic impact, being out of character with the neighborhood and reduction in property values. The board also found the height of the proposed structure violated what was permitted in current town bylaws.

Following the Planning Board’s denial of the application, AT&T brought a lawsuit against the town in October, saying the town had violated Section 704 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that reads: “No state or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the commission’s regulations concerning such emissions.” The Selectboard got involved, saying it was the body responsible for legal proceedings, and started renegotiating with AT&T for a 140-foot tower instead of bringing the case to court.

Intervening is defined as entry by a third party, with a personal stake in the outcome, into a civil complaint. The group of abutters to the proposed cellular communications tower on the corner of Rowe Road and Knott Road gained status as interveners by the court in the spring.

“We are not here to tell you why we disagree with the tower at this location. You are aware about our stance,” Kate Peppard, a member of the group of interveners, said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We would prefer to work with you in a collaborative manner instead of a settlement.”

Selectboard members said they would only support the interveners in going forward with discussions without counsel if AT&T agreed as well.

The interveners explained they have a relationship with the Selectboard, but do not have one with AT&T. They went on to say the Selectboard now has a relationship with AT&T since they have already participated in negotiations, so the interveners thought they would have a better chance of bringing AT&T to the table through the board.

Citing the court’s accepting the abutters as having reasonable grounds for argument in the case, the interveners think they would have a strong chance of winning if the case was brought to court. However, they still hope to host discussions outside of court.

“I think AT&T will take what they can get now that the court has proved they support us,” commented Tara Mason, a member of the group of interveners.

Provost-Carlson explained that when the interveners became involved in the lawsuit, all the negotiating of the settlement was lost, bringing the lawsuit back to square one. The Selectboard negotiated with AT&T to lower the height of the proposed cell tower from 180 feet to 140 feet, got the company to reimburse the town for legal fees and got it to pay for safety equipment.

“All items we negotiated to get we believed were in the best interest of the town,” Provost-Carlson said.

While the interveners are constituents of the Selectboard, having voted them into office, there are three clearly defined parties in the lawsuit: the interveners, the town of Heath (represented by the Selectboard) and AT&T. Provost-Carlson told the interveners they are welcome to approach AT&T without the Selectboard if they so choose, and offered them contact information for an AT&T representative they can communicate with.

Fire Capt. Steve Bigelow noted at Tuesday’s meeting it is important to have a cell tower to expand reception in case of an emergency. Likewise, Cory Mason, a member of the group of interveners, added the most important value of the tower is for emergency communication.

Contact Bella Levavi at blevavi@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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