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Siting scenario

The scenario plays out next in Bridgewater—the one in which a proposal for a new cell tower prompts the Connecticut Siting Council to come to town for hearings, and residents who think a tower is unnecessary, undesirable or worse show up with the expectation that well-reasoned and researched opinions will hold sway.

What typically happens next is local disappointment, perhaps even outrage, as the Siting Council ultimately dismisses the testimony as sound-alike, don’t-do-it-here dogma they’ve heard before—which technically has no bearing on an application. The council then moves on toward an approval.

If disgruntled hometown residents are lucky, the state entity will seek modifications in an application to make a tower less intrusive before signing off, and if they’re really lucky, sustained pressure and lobbying—especially if it benefits from monetary resources and tools such as opposition Web sites—can prompt the wireless providers to exit the fight or at least look at alternative locations likely to cause less of a stir.

At this point, it’s pretty much part of an established script, as is the ongoing shock and awe among ordinary folks that new cell towers largely can’t be stopped—based on a federal law that has anointed seamless wireless service as a public good.

Eventually, Connecticut residents who come up against the Siting Council realize that it’s an overseer tailored to enforce the federal directive that the spread of technology is good, and to ignore the cries from the NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) crowd.

Given that growing realization, the events leading up to last week’s resignation of Siting Council chairman Daniel Caruso didn’t seem shocking. An attorney involved in the fight over plans by BNE Energy for wind power turbines in Colebrook and the Naugatuck Valley town of Prospect went public with allegations that Mr. Caruso made disparaging remarks about aspects of the wind power opposition—as he was improperly discussing the Siting Council matter while on the job in his role as a Fairfield probate judge.

The narrative surely caught the attention of at least some Cornwall residents, where the conduct of Mr. Caruso and the Siting Council during a hearing last summer on a cell tower plan sparked a modest tempest that even had area state lawmakers calling on Mr. Caruso to own up to his behavior and apologize. He had been accused, essentially, of verbally abusing opponents of a tower site.

Mr. Caruso may be gone, but the Siting Council’s view of its charge, its confidence as a near-impenetrable entity and its faith in the divine right of applicants to proceed are unlikely to see change. Now the show is coming to Bridgewater, and if form follows, residents there will be left feeling varying degrees of having been duped and maltreated.

It would be wrong to call it a farce, but it is a one-sided process that nearly always ends in the same way, with the sound and fury in the middle never making much difference.Any system that claims to value the people’s input, and to take their concerns seriously, but utterly fails to honor those promises, is broken.

A cell tower on every corner (make that hillside) may connect the world, but that can hardly be called progress in an overall sense of the word. Litchfield County residents deserve, at least, to have state legislators take a hard look at the Siting Council and its role to see if the process can be reformed without offending federal laws or priorities.