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Official says Manchester lost out on $1.5m for cell tower court has now ordered built

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 07. 2014 10:39PM

MANCHESTER — The chairman of Manchester Water Works said the city could have received $1.5 million from AT&T if aldermen would have agreed to build a cell-phone tower just up the street from where it will now be built under federal order.

Paul Lessard said politics were responsible for a deal, negotiated by Mayor Ted Gatsas, being rejected. Now, a tower will be built anyway, after a federal judge last week sided with AT&T and ordered city regulators to allow the tower on a wooded lot off South Mammoth Road.

The tower could have gone just up the road to the east of the Water Works reservoir on Mammoth Road. In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Steven McAuliffe mentioned the alternative spot and said it was ironic that the city did not take the Water Works deal. He noted it would have come with an income stream.

Lessard said the deal called for $1.5 million over 25 years.

"We had a contract in hand," he said. He blamed Ward 6 Alderman Garth Corriveau and at-large Aldermen Joe Kelly Levasseur for killing the deal.

"They did it for votes. It's that simple," Lessard said. Now the neighborhood will get a tower, he said, in a terrible spot.

The two aldermen said they have no reservations about opposing the deal. Corriveau said the location bordered two other wards — Wards 7 and 8 — and it had no neighborhood support. He said the money would have gone to Water Works, not the city treasury.

"It was really a very easy decision for us to make and just say no," he said.

Levasseur said the tower would have been an eyesore in the neighborhoods east of the reservoir. "It was wide open, no trees, not blockage," he said.

Both aldermen are lukewarm about a suggestion from a tower neighbor that the city ask for a reconsideration and appeal the decision if necessary.

Corriveau said he hasn't read the decision but would defer to Thomas Katsiantonis, the alderman whose ward the tower will be in.

"I don't know why you would (appeal)," Levasseur said. He said he had a bad feeling when the case went to federal court. "They had the money, guns and lawyers," he said.

Katsiantonis said he wants to speak to the city's lawyers before deciding on an appeal, given the possible costs. He said constituents in the neighborhood complain about the tower, but customers in his pizza shop complain about poor cell-phone reception in the area.

In his ruling, McAuliffe said the federal Telecommunications Act prevents communities from adopting regulations that effectively prohibit the provision of wireless service. Manchester's zoning ordinance keeps residential areas off-limits for cell towers. AT&T had sought a variance, but had been twice denied.

The lawyer who argued the case, Peter Chiesa, said he will consult with the city Zoning Board of Adjustment and elected officials to see what the next move will be.

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