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Town-Built Cell Tower 'Not Worth Risk'

Analysis by Brookfield resident suggests developers are best way forward.

After a Danbury cellular tower developer , First Selectman Bill Davidson asked longtime Brookfield resident C.D. Pete Peterson to research the cell tower market and report back what he found.

During his research, Peterson looked at the possibility of the town building and managing a tower itself or, as was his recommendation, to allow developers to build the structure, sell space to carriers and be responsible for upkeep, all while paying the town a contracted fee.

The town was “approached by several people over the last year” about putting up a new tower, Peterson explained. “The Board of Selectmen had no experience or background with cell towers,” so they reached out for assistance.

Peterson, a former two-term Board of Finance (BOF) member and retired vice-president of Planning and Marketing for Danbury Hospital, began by studying the industry, the options and the major players at the local and national level.

“I started to piece together what it looks like,” he said, “And it looked like a shark-infested pool.”

Peterson said he looked into the advantages of the town taking full command of building, selling and maintaining a tower, however, “It isn’t something we know how to do,” he concluded, and with the level of risk involved, “It didn’t seem like the value was there.”

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Were the town to contract with a developer, the chosen firm would oversee construction, guide the project through strict state regulators, sell space on the tower to carriers (and ensure room for Brookfield’s emergency communication needs) and maintain the tower and grounds into the future. The company would pay a fee back to the town, as well as shouldering the full cost of development.

Lease agreements for the land the tower is on can range from $900 to $3,000 a month, according to Peterson. However, in some cases landowners have negotiated to get a percentage of the income from the carriers, with one municipality netting $3,800 a month from a single tower.

“I do believe that our town attorneys can handle the negotiation” of the contract, he said, as “they have negotiated cell towers before” for other nearby municipalities.

Peterson spoke with two developers: Homeland Towers, the Danbury-based company that toured the in March, and Independent Towers, a firm based out of Latham, NY.

“Both seem to know their business,” he said, and “their approach was very similar,” though, “Homeland is closer and seems to have a little more interest in us. They also seem to pay more, but the towns that Independent was in were smaller towns,” similar to Brookfield.

“I would give the edge to Homeland in one area: they seem to have a better way to get carriers on board,” Peterson added. For Independent, “The towers I checked on only had one carrier — AT&T — but those areas are small” and might not have warranted more carriers.

Both companies had stellar references, Peterson said, specifically when it came to monitoring and upkeep of the towers in the years after construction.

“I left them [the selectmen] with the description of all the players and all the options — Now they’re armed now to make a decision.”

After hearing from Peterson, Davidson said the selectmen are in agreement that contracting with a tower developer would be the right move and “clearly the consensus is to go forward,” as the tower would provide “new revenue to the community and better communications for emergency services.”

Davidson was unsure of the timeline, but said that moving forward with the project was easily on his “Top 25” list.

However, he assured, “We’re not going to award this to anyone before we know what it’s going to look like.”

Steven DeVaux May 14, 2012 at 10:05 AM
They have no experience in cell towers (see what other towns have done in that case) and they reached out to a hospital executive - not a cell tower specialist - for answers? That's as bad as reaching out to a CPA to solve hydrology problems.
C. D. Peterson May 14, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Four other towns were contacted about their experiences. Two cell tower specialists were interviewed. This was an information gathering task, not a problem solving task.
Bob McGarrah May 14, 2012 at 12:36 PM
With the notable exception of the now "shelved" Space Program, Government has shown time and again that it is no match for private enterprise. Municipalities have no business being in business. ANY BUSINESS!!
C. D. Peterson May 14, 2012 at 12:45 PM
That was the recommendation.

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