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Plan For Cell Tower On Sununu Family-Owned Land Near National Forest Draws Pushback

Sarah Gibson

A plan for a new cell tower just outside the White Mountain National Forest, on land owned by Gov. Chris Sununu’s family, is getting criticism from some neighboring residents.

The lattice-style tower would stand at least 170 feet tall in the town of Thornton, on a slope of Mount Cone. The summit of the mountain is within the National Forest, just below the popular Welch-Dickey hiking trail.

The Thornton zoning board has been holding virtual public hearings on variances for the project, proposed by Massachusetts-based developer Vertex.

Those hearings continue at the zoning board meeting tonight, Thursday, at 7 p.m. 

Jeremy Duffield, who lives on an adjacent cul-de-sac where Vertex wants to build an access road to the proposed tower, said he and dozens of his neighbors worry it will be an eyesore to hikers and residents. It would be below the mountain ridge line, but above the treetops.

"There's a groundswell of opposition to this in the town,” Duffield said. “There's concern that the way this is being done is predatory."

Vertex has told local officials that the tower targets a cell coverage gap on Route 49, at the Campton-Thornton town line. They say it’ll support local emergency communications and up to five cell carriers, including, potentially, Verizon, though no agreements are finalized.

Duffield doesn’t feel Vertex has demonstrated a clear need for the project. He said local officials should do a more detailed investigation of need and alternatives before they approve the plan.

“Many people choose to live here because we’re right next to the National Forest: It’s very peaceful, it’s quiet, it’s full of nature,” Duffield said. “We don’t want a huge tower every time we look out of our back window or otherwise we might as well just move back to the towns.”

Michael and James Sununu, brothers of Gov. Chris Sununu, are trustees of the company that owns the site. James Sununu told NHPR that Vertex approached them about the project, and the family hasn't been too involved beyond that.

He said the project is not meant to serve the nearby Waterville Valley ski resort, which the family also owns. James Sununu said they currently have no other plans for the property where the Thornton tower would be located.

Duffield, the neighbor, said residents would be willing to band together and buy the parcel rather than have it used for a cell tower. James Sununu said he’d be open to considering any alternative offers that may come in.

The project still needs zoning board approval for several variances before it can go to the Thornton planning board for further consideration.

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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