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Wireless in the wild

August 21, 2011
By AMANDA WHISTLE , The Leader Herald

About three years have passed since Verizon Wireless entered into a lease agreement with a private landowner to build a cell tower in Wells.

Before that, what amounted to thousands of signatures - more than the year-round population of Wells - graced the pages of a massive petition to state lawmakers that the people in Wells wanted wireless service, town Supervisor Brian Towers recalled.

"They wanted cell service, and to really begin the process. They took the petition and gave it to our senator and assemblywoman and asked for help," Towers said. "In general, most people want to have cell service. It's just like any other community. This is a strong second-home community. Two-thirds of houses are second homes and people who come up on weekends several times during the summer months have cell service where they live normally. There's an advantage to having those services."

Article Photos

Verizon Wireless has begun to construct a 72-foot-tall cellphone tower on this site off Ranger Road in Wells. It should be complete in 12 weeks. Photo by Bill Pitcher/The Leader-Herald

In 2009, the Adirondack Park Agency granted the permit to begin construction of what will be a 72-foot- tall structure with a 12-panel antenna array and equipment building.

Towers said he was told unofficially the tower, located off of Ranger Road, which intersects West River Road southwest of Lake Algonquin, will be completed in eight to 12 weeks.

Howard Lowe, assessment and data manager for the Wireless Clearinghouse Project, a grant-funded endeavor that mapped out 1,500 potential wireless sites for antennas for wireless service in the Adirondack Park, said service in the Adirondacks has improved over the past few years, "but there are still a lot of gaps."

"If we're going to be as competitive a tourist destination as other places, we have to have wireless service," said Lowe, the former director of the Technical Assistance Center at the State University of New York in Plattsburgh.

The Wireless Clearinghouse Project is funded by a $106,000 state Department of Environmental Conservation Smart Growth grant to the town of Saranac. It was administered by the Research Foundation of the State University of New York with project implementation by SUNY Plattsburgh.

Twenty-eight municipalities within the Adirondack Park - including Wells - participated in the project, providing potential sites for towers that would be minimally invasive.

"It kind of eliminates some of the site work and what could seem kind of daunting as far as trying to figure out where the best sites are," said Adirondack North Country Association Communications Specialist Melissa Hart.

In the village of Mayfield, for instance, the APA granted Verizon Wireless a Telecom Permit for co-location on an existing 145-foot-tall water tank owned by the municipality.

Town Supervisor Richard Argotsinger said there are seven cellular towers in the town, and all have been installed within the last 10 years.

Still, traveling northwest in Mayfield, service can be spotty.

"It's a fairly remote area, and just with topography up there, you have limited service depending on where you are," Argotsinger said.

Service for AT&T customers around Caroga and Canada lakes should be better now that the company has added a new cell site along the east side of Route 10 in the town.

Caroga Supervisor James K. Selmser said the tower was completed in May.

"The main concern was safety. That's always been the main concern, both by the people who live here and the people who travel through the area. They're so accustomed to having this service they like it for convenience, too," said Selmser, adding that the town sees tourists all year long, with attractions in the winter and summer.

Selmser said the tower, being only 95 feet tall, is not as strong as many in the town would have preferred.

"We were only allowed to build a tower that blended in with the trees. It's 95 feet tall, and that does not give us as much strength as we had hoped in some areas where the signal is weak," Selmser said.

Several other cell tower projects have received approval including a co-location project by Verizon on an existing tower in Gloversville.

AT&T announced on Tuesday the completion of two new cell sites that will provide enhanced mobile broadband service for advanced mobile devices, like smartphones, along the New York State Thruway near Fort Plain and Nelliston and St. Johnsville. The sites will also affect service along Route 30 north of Amsterdam in Perth.

Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry President Wally Hart said mobility and broadband expansion are aspects of the new regional business plan that are necessary for expansion.

The chamber is concerned primarily about business needs for wireless and broadband services. Tourism is a close second, though, as people select destinations where they have broadband service.

"It used to be you wanted to get away," Hart said. "Today, everybody is connected 24/7 and wants to know what's going on. If it's something they can take care of while they're on vacation, they want to be able to do that and not have it be an issue."

Reporter Amanda Whistle can be contacted by email at



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