New US Cellular tower will not appear on November ballot, but request is forwarded to Ordinance Review Committee

Rockport Select Board approves $40,000 Route 90 sewer extension study

Tue, 09/14/2021 - 1:30pm

    ROCKPORT — The Rockport Select Board unanimously approved a sewer study at its Sept. 13 meeting. The goal is to examine the feasibility of extending sewer lines along Route 90 (West Street) and into West Rockport. The study will cost approximately $40,000 and will be conducted by Woodard & Curran, the firm hired by the town to plan the sewer extension now under construction along Route 1.

    The board also denied a request from U.S. Cellular to erect a new telecommunications tower on Vinal Sreet, but referred the proposal to the Ordinance Review Committee for their consideration in 2022. 

    Route 90 Sewer Study

    According to the proposal submitted to the town by Woodard & Curran (W&C,) the study would focus “on the Route 90 corridor between the Camden Hills Regional High School (the western terminus of the existing collection system) and the intersection with Route 17 where several potential development projects have been recently discussed.”

    The budget for the study is a not-to-exceed lump sum of $40,000, which includes an allowance of $10,000 to conduct ledge probes to determine the depth of bedrock and extract soil samples. This information would be examined alongside areas along the Route 90 corridor which could be used for gravity drainage and could support the construction of wastewater pump stations.

    An initial cost estimated for the project would be provided by W&C; Town Manager Jon Duke said a portion of the overall project cost for the sewer extension – as much as 80 percent – could be funded through EDA (Economic Development Administration) grants.

    Duke said that he, Planning and Development Director Orion Thomas and W&C Principal Nate McLaughlin, had discussed the project over the past month, but that the idea of a Route 90 sewer extension had been a topic of discussion among Rockport officials over the past 20 years.

    “I think this is a great opportunity and sets us up for that EDA process that did not go in our favor with the Route 1 project, but we are well placed, I think, to take advantage of that for the Route 90 project. There are a number of items that are out there, not just EDA but there are a lot of opportunities that make a lot of sense to connect that Route 90 corridor,” said Duke.

    “As opposed to keeping the [Route 90 extension] as ‘concept,’ in talking with [Duke] it seemed like it was time to investigate what that project would look like — size, scope, cost... how it might influence discussions you’re having around inter-local agreements as you get what the [wastewater] flows and loads might be from that extension, funding sources, how you might phase it, really see how you would move the project forward in much more detail,” said McLaughlin.

    McLaughlin said that the size and direction of the extension could be based around which current properties, such as Midcoast Recreation Center and the West Rockport Fire Station, and new developments, such as workforce housing could use the wastewater system.

    Finance Director Meghan Brackett said the Town had contingency money in the Capital Improvement Plan that could be used to fund the study, and that the study would be a document necessary to receive EDA funding for the sewer project itself. An application to receive EDA funding would need to be filed by March of 2022.

    “EDA funding is typically only 50 percent of the project, but because the [American Rescue Plan Act] funds that are available, they are awarding projects up to 80 percent. Talking with [Thomas,] we feel confident that we could qualify up to that 80 percent because of job creation, because of workforce housing and some other potential services we could put in,” said Brackett.

    Board member John Strand asked if moving funds from the Capital Improvement Plan to pay for the study would impact other projects in the municipality, such as road repairs.

    Brackett said that the Town sewer operates as an enterprise fund, so “only sewer can pay for sewer.”

    McLaughlin said wastewater flow projections from the study could be used to determine if current inter-local agreements are in place to adequately satisfy potential build-out along that portion of Route 90; wastewater from the area currently flows through the Village Collection System and through the Camden Street flow station and is then disposed in Camden’s wastewater collection system.

    Proposed U.S. Cellular telecommunication tower

    In his Manager’s Report, Duke said he was approached in August by an attorney, James Belleau, on behalf of U.S. Cellular concerning a request by the company to build  a cellular tower off of Vinal Street.

    In a letter submitted to the Town,  Belleau asked that the Select Board place an item on the November ballot to adjust the town’s Land Use Ordinance (LUO) to allow for additional locations within Rockport for wireless telecommunications.

    Duke said that because state law does not allow questions to be added to a referendum ballot less than 60 days from an election the Select Board did not have the authority to place the request on the November ballot.

    Based on this regulation, the Select Board denied the request by U.S. Cellular to place the tower request and LUO amendments on the 2021 ballot, but forwarded the matter to the Ordinance Review Committee (ORC) with the expectation that, upon review and acceptance by the ORC, the item may be placed on the June 2022 ballot.

    Duke said that representatives for U.S. Cellular will be bringing its application before the Planning Board at an upcoming meeting.

    “As I understand the Telecommunications Act of 1996, [municipalities] have very limited opportunities where towns can limit where and how towers can be placed. We had an ordinance that the town worked on in the early 2000s which worked quite well. U.S. Cellular’s case is they believe that there is a pocket that is unserved or underserved and there is some question of, if that’s the case, there are instances where courts can override local ordinances. And obviously that’s not something the Town would want to have happen. We want to find something that works for our residents, the applicants, follows the law, follows federal law,” said Duke.

    The application submitted by U.S. Cellular calls for a 145-foot  tower to be placed on property at 0 Vinal Street, which would be leased from Kathleen Bailey, a Rockport taxpayer, according to the application. The site is approximately 2.7 miles from U.S. Cellular’s tower on Ragged Mountain.

    Under the Town’s current land use ordinance, new towers must be places within 1,000 feet of the summit of Ragged Mountain. U.S. Cellular states that an additional tower within that area would not provide adequate service to, “Vinal Street, South Street, and adjacent areas where there are gaps in coverage and insufficient capacity for service.”

    The next meeting of the Rockport Select Board will be held Tuesday, Oct. 12 at 6 p.m. at the Rockport Opera House.

    Reach Louis Bettcher at; 207-706-6657