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National Grid wants hearings delayed; Two towers proposed in Tatnuck Square.

Byline: Nick Kotsopoulos

WORCESTER -- National Grid is asking the Zoning Board of Appeals to further delay hearings on the company's bid to erect a communications tower in the Tatnuck Square area as part of its "smart grid'' pilot program.

In a letter to the zoning board, Mark R. Rielly, senior counsel for National Grid, is asking it to continue the public hearings on its petitions to March 17, instead of hearing them Monday.

He said the continuance request is with the understanding that additional time may be needed until May 5 so the utility can complete all testing that may have to be done if it decides to put the communications tower elsewhere in the Tatnuck Square area.

National Grid is seeking zoning relief to construct a communications tower at one of two sites in the Tatnuck area, at 30 Tory Fort Lane, in the middle of a residential neighborhood, or 597 Mill St., in the heart of the Tatnuck Square commercial district.

With a smart grid system, the utility can more promptly and accurately track customers' usage of electricity.

At its last meeting Jan. 13, the zoning board said it wanted more proof from National Grid that it made a good-faith effort to put its equipment for the smart grid program on existing towers or buildings in that area, as required under the city's zoning ordinance.

Mr. Rielly said National Grid is keenly aware of the city's "co-location'' requirements and has made efforts to identify potentially feasible existing sites, including researching databases as well as through door-to-door efforts.

He said National Grid looked at two possible sites -- the First Congregational Church at 1070 Pleasant St., across from Tatnuck Magnet School; and Hillside Condominiums, 1029 Pleasant St., diagonally across from Christ The King Church.

But in its most recent filing with the ZBA on Jan. 8, Mr. Rielly said, National Grid had discounted those sites.

He said the company had not been successful, despite attempts over many months, to schedule presentations to the church and condominium association's boards of directors to assess their interest or National Grid's capability to use either of those facilities.

After the Jan. 13 zoning board hearing, Mr. Rielly said, National Grid was finally able to make a presentation to the condominium board and is proceeding with further discussions and assessments of that site.

He added that National Grid was also scheduled to meet with the church board Jan. 21, but that meeting was canceled because of the weather.

Mr. Rielly said National Grid anticipates it will be able to make progress in verifying the feasibility of the church and condominium locations, including whether either site has the space for a new antenna, whether the facility is sturdy enough, and whether there is a line of sight to other smart grid facilities.

In addition, he said, National Grid should be able to ascertain whether it has a reasonable expectation of being able to secure the necessary property rights from either owner.

"If any one of those criteria is not met, the site would not be feasible and National Grid would be prepared to move forward with its current application,'' Mr. Rielly wrote. "On the other hand, if one or both of the sites satisfied these criteria, then National Grid would need to perform engineering and communications testing to assess the technical feasibility of these sites to cover the gap in the proposed network.

"National Grid performed such testing at other locations last fall, but because we were unable to gain access to the church or condo sites we missed the testing window and must now wait until the return of foliage in the spring,'' he added. "Thus, the test results likely would not be ready to present to the (zoning) board until its regularly scheduled meeting on May 5.''

The tower in the Tatnuck area is considered the final piece to the puzzle for National Grid's smart grid program.

Last year, the zoning board granted National Grid special permits to allow personal wireless service facilities at three of its substations: Bloomingdale, off Wigwam Avenue; Vernon Hill (10 Gloucester Road/245 Vernon St.); and Greendale (4 Naples Road.)

But a tower in the Tatnuck area is needed to cover the West Side, where National Grid has two substations -- one at 30 Tory Fort Lane, where it wants to erect an 80-foot lattice tower with a 10-foot-high mast; and another at 597 Mill St., where it has proposed putting up a 90-foot tower in the heart of Tatnuck Square.

National Grid wants to put the tower at one of those two places so data about the electrical grid system can be passed along throughout parts of the city.

It wants to install three so-called "WiMax'' and two microwave antennas, and radio-receiver units at each substation.

Both sites have drawn strong opposition from neighborhood residents and city councilors, as well as from people living outside Worcester who oppose the smart grid program.

The delay will also give the zoning board additional time to hear back from the city's Law Department and Division of Public Health in response to its questions.

The ZBA has asked for some direction from the Law Department on a basis for its decisions for both petitions.

Board members have questioned whether the city's zoning ordinance conflicts with rules and regulations of the Federal Communications Commission.

The zoning ordinance is intended to minimize the unsightliness of communications towers, avoid damage and impacts on adjacent properties, to minimize the use of towers, and to limit emissions from them that could pose health risks.

But ZBA Chairman Lawrence Abramoff said the ordinance appears to conflict with the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, which seems to indicate that National Grid would be allowed to erect a communications tower if it can prove a significant gap in coverage will exist in the high-speed, two-way communications network that is the backbone of its smart grid program.

Meanwhile, city councilors have also asked for a report from public health officials as to whether there are any dangers or concerns associated with the smart grid program.
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Kotsopoulos, Nick
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 1, 2014
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