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Cell Tower Developer Sues Thornton For Denying Proposal On Sununu-Owned Land

NHPR file

A developer is suing the town of Thornton after local officials rejected a plan to build a cell tower on land owned by Gov. Chris Sununu’s family.

Massachusetts-based developer Vertex wants to build a 170-foot-tall lattice style cell tower on Cone Mountain, near the popular Welsh-Dickey trail on the edge of the White Mountain National Forest. The Sununu family manages and has stake in the realty trust that owns the site.

After Thornton’s zoning board of appeals advanced the cell tower despite widespread public opposition, the town planning board unexpectedly rejected it in April. Members said during the meeting that the tower as proposed did not seem necessary to address local coverage issues.

In their written notice to Vertex soon after, the board said the project posed too great a safety and environmental risk, due to the potential for fires and unaddressed stormwater runoff.   

In a federal suit filed this week, Vertex argues this denial wasn’t justified. They say the board didn’t consider all the evidence or give them a fair chance to address these concerns.

The company also says the decision violates federal telecommunications law because it would “effectively prohibit personal wireless service to cover the key highway extending to the Waterville Valley Ski Area.” 

The Sununus own that ski area but have said the cell tower wasn’t intended to benefit it. The developer has previously focused the cell tower plan on coverage for local emergency services on the road in question, Route 49.

A Thornton planning official declined to comment on the case Friday. Vertex is asking the court to require the town to approve the project.

The town is also facing a separate suit in state Superior Court from the cell tower’s local opponents, who say the town zoning board of appeals erred in its approval of a variance for the project.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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