Community Preservation: The Museum and U.S. Cellular

The Musée culturel du Mont-Carmel is set in an agrarian village. As the former church of Notre-Dame du Mont-Carmel, it is in itself, an artifact. We consider it equally important to preserve as much as possible of the original landscape that surrounds the former church, which includes the fields and buildings in the village. There are structures within the village that represent the material culture of Acadian farmers during the 19th and 20th centuries. Many of these are situated next to the museum and some are being restored by their owners. Our goal is to retain the integrity of this agrarian village. An example of our endeavor to protect the landscape surrounding the museum is our involvement in the location and size of a cell tower.

In 2006 US Cellular planned to install a 259 foot-high cell tower with beacons on the hill, half a mile behind the museum. Since our concern was that it would dominate the landscape, we notified the Maine Historic Preservation Commission who has oversight over the approval of applications to build cell towers. By law, cell towers financed by federal funding cannot disrupt the setting of an historic building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Our argument was that proposed cell tower would seriously impact the integrity of the landscape around the museum. Our resistance to the cell tower caused an uproar in town; petitions were signed with most of residents approving the cell tower. However, since this was not a public opinion issue – federal law protected historic structures – the Commission disapproved the cell tower application. This forced US Cellular to modify the height of the tower to 190 feet and situate it outside of the 1/2-mile distance from the façade of the museum. This proposal was again denied by the Commission since the museum property goes back farther than the façade of the building. Although the tower would be shorter, it would still have had an adverse impact on the historic structure.

Direct discussions between our museum and U.S. Cellular began. They pointed out that the utility lines in front of the museum were more of a distraction that a cell tower would be; we agreed with that. Those lines, however, were built in the early 20th C and were not subject to historic preservation laws. US Cellular realized that it could take years to negotiate a settlement through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and be too costly to keep reapplying. A compromise was found. The deal: the electrical utilities in front of the museum would be removed by US Cellular and relocated in exchange for allowing the tower to be built. The poles were moved across the street and electrical, telephone and Internet service to the museum and rectory was put underground. The cell tower was installed further back than first desired, and at a lower height than the 190-foot level, which eliminated the need for the beacon lights.