Cell tower proposals fuel rise in applications to Adirondack Park Agency

RAY BROOK – After a two-year downward trend, the number of permit inquiries and applications to the state Adirondack Park Agency is on the rise, fueled in part by a boost in cell-phone tower projects.

In the first three months of this year, 92 applications were submitted to the agency, including 40 in March alone, APA Regulatory Programs Director Rick Weber told the agency board earlier this month. At the same point last year, the agency had seen 84 applications.

The number of preapplication files opened at the agency also has increased. The agency had seen 66 preapplications through March 31 of this year, up from 51 over the same time span last year.

Permits issued by the agency also are on the rise. As of March 31, the APA had issued 62 permits, up from 42 at the same point last year.

The number of permits issued so far this year is slightly above the agency’s 10-year average, Weber said.

“What I’m beginning to see is the activity is picking up,” he said. “We are sensing an increasing activity, and I’ve been reporting that the last couple of months.”

Weber didn’t speculate as to what was fueling the increase, but the level of application activity to the APA is generally considered a barometer for the amount of construction activity going on in the park and the state of its economy.

Fueled by a boom in second-home development, the agency saw at least 400 applications each year from 2004 to 2010, hitting a peak of roughly 475 applications in 2008.

Coinciding with a downturn in the economy, the number of permit applications fell off substantially in the last two years. In 2011, roughly 350 applications were received. Last year, the agency received just under 300 applications, a level that hadn’t been seen since the early 2000s.

Cell towers

Weber said a boost in proposals for cell-phone towers and related infrastructure is keeping the agency busy.

“When mentioning we have a lot of work that’s coming our way, we have a total of 19 preapplications for telecommunication-related projects,” he said. “Five are basically upgrades or replacements of antenna on existing towers, but 14 are new tower applications. We’ve opened files on them, but we’re still trying to get details on these projects from primarily AT&T and Verizon [Wireless].”

Documents on the APA website show there are preapplication files for new cell towers in the towns of North Hudson, Minerva, Essex, Willsboro, Keene, Piercefield (two), Saranac (two), Long Lake, Lake Pleasant and Queensbury.

The agency also has received applications for at least two cell tower-related projects. AT&T is planning a 10-foot extension on an existing 80-foot tower and the installation of nine, 6-foot-long panel antennas on the top of Mount Pisgah in Saranac Lake. Verizon Wireless has also submitted an application for an 80-foot-tall tower and associated antennas in the town of Minerva.

The APA issued a pair of cell tower-related permits in March, one to AT&T for the replacement of antennas on a tower on Mount Defiance in Ticonderoga, and another to Verizon Wireless for the installation of 12 panel antennas on an existing water tower in the town of Newcomb.

“This was a good process because they came in initially with a certain configuration, and through some discussion have moved it down on the tank,” Weber said. “It’s acceptable from [a radio frequency] standpoint, and it’s improved the proposal significantly in terms of visibility.”

Chris Knight is a senior staff writer with the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.