Broadcasters seek permit for new Mt. Mansfield towers

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(Host) A coalition of Vermont broadcasters wants to build three new towers on Mount Mansfield as part of the transition to digital television. The group has filed for an Act 250 permit for the project. The plans call for the existing towers on the mountain to be removed within four or five years.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) As the state’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield’s summit contains both a rare natural area and a work-zone used by TV and radio companies. Its high elevation makes it a coveted spot for broadcasters to beam their signals over northern Vermont.

The new era of digital television means Mount Mansfield is also a mountain in transition. TV companies are under a federal mandate to roll out digital service. So Vermont broadcasters want to start work this summer on new towers that would host the new equipment.

(Peter Martin) “So three new towers go up, three towers come down.”

(Dillon) Peter Martin is general manager of WCAX television and a member of the co-location association that is overseeing the project. He says the plan calls for two narrow monopole towers and a third that has a wider base with a monopole on top. With their digital antennas, the three structures would range from about 165 feet to 173 feet. Towers taller than 200 feet require warning lights for airplanes.

(Martin) “If it goes above 200 feet, the towers have to be lit, and that is something nobody wants. And playing against that is the need to avoid putting radio frequency energy on the Nose or on the ground around the Nose, so that the Nose could continue to be accessible to the public.”

(Dillon) The Nose is a popular hiking area on the summit. Several years ago, part of a hiking trail there had to be closed because of the potential microwave hazard.

Martin says that during the three to four year transition period to digital TV, the three existing towers would remain on the mountain. But afterwards, he says there should be less visual impact.

(Martin) “The new towers will be somewhat higher than the towers that are there now, but they will not be structural, that is they won’t be lattice-work towers, they will be quite thin. That’s why we went to monopoles, is for the aesthetics.”

(Dillon) The complex tower construction plan, which includes an expanded equipment building, will cost about $4 million. Multiple players are involved. Two new TV stations – the local Fox affiliate and WPTZ from Plattsburgh – will move their digital facilities to Mount Mansfield, and will join WCAX, Vermont Public Television and WVNY on the mountain. VPR also broadcasts from Mount Mansfield. The plan calls for its antenna to move to one of the new monopole towers.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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