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Peabody working with Verizon on cell tower solution

PEABODY — The call to end a five-year battle over a proposed 60-foot cell tower on Lynn Street could be answered soon.

After months of negotiations, the Peabody Municipal Light Plant (PMLP), the city’s electric utility company, has provided Verizon Wireless with a cost estimate to install a dozen canisters that would be mounted on utility poles on the city’s south side to improve wireless and cellphone service. These 12-inch boxes would replace a giant cell tower.

Verizon has maintained the fix is necessary to fill coverage gaps and add 5G, or fifth-generation, cellular wireless service for faster downloads. Federal law allows utilities to provide the service and limits the authority of cities and towns.

“I am hopeful we can work out an agreement,” said Charles Orphanos, PMLP’s manager. “We have been working towards this all along because it’s in everyone’s best interest. I don’t think anyone wants large towers going up in the city.”

PMLP and Verizon had a negotiation session scheduled last Friday. But Verizon canceled because they need more time to review the proposal, he said.

Orphanos declined to provide financial details.

“Not at this time,” he said.

The Federal Communication Commision allows communities to charge cellphone companies a one-time application fee, and collect an annual payment for use of the poles.

Two years ago, the city of Lowell and Verizon came to an accord. Under the terms of the deal, the phone company paid the city a $20,000 application fee and agreed to pay $2,500 for 50 mini-cells annually. That amount would increase by two percent annually, according to the contract.

The City Council and the neighborhood off Lynn Street have been embroiled in a fight with Verizon to prevent construction of a cell tower behind Michael’s Limousine Co. since 2014. Residents have organized, held meetings, leafleted and erected “No Cell Tower” signs while the city filed a lawsuit.

But in March, a Land Court judge cleared the way for Verizon to build a cell tower. In a 16-page decision, Judge Jennifer Roberts sided with the utility. After more than four years and six proposed alternate sites that were rejected, the city’s denial of a permit prohibits the utility from providing cell service and violates the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, she wrote.

Roberts ordered the City Council to grant a special permit or any other permit and “take all necessary actions to remove any further impediments to the construction of a proposed cell tower” at 161 Lynn St. The city appealed.

In the meantime, PMLP has been working quietly behind the scenes to get a deal done, and end the court fight while providing better cellular service.

“I expect to hear from Verizon soon to reschedule the meeting,” Orphanos said. “We expect to be back at the table soon.”

Mayor Edward Bettencourt Jr. did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

A Verizon spokesman declined to answer questions.

In a statement, David Weissmann said,We remain interested in making investments in our network in Peabody that will improve coverage and capacity for customers, visitors and first responders.”

City Councilor-at-Large Anne Manning-Martin said she’s skeptical of an imminent agreement.

“I’ve heard about the negotiations for months and thought it would be resolved by now,” she said. “If I had a dollar for every time I heard we are getting close to a deal, I’d be able to retire.”

 

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