At The Public Hearing Most Want The Cherry Plain Cell Tower
by Phillip Zema
Mariner Tower intends to place a 150 ft. cellular tower on the Goodermote property in Cherry Plain. A number of Berlin/Cherry Plain residents currently lack cellular coverage, and the tower will provide access for most, if not all, of them. Before the Town can decide on the proposal, however, a public hearing was legally required. The hearing, which was held in Berlin High School’s auditorium, gave the community an opportunity to voice their opinions about the proposal. Some residents were vehemently against the tower; others believed it would be an invaluable asset to the Town.
The public hearing started with a presentation from Mariner Tower representative Chris Ciolfi. Ciolfi briefly discussed why the Goodermote property was chosen, and he articulated what the construction process entailed. In short, the chosen property, which is located on the west side of Rt. 22 in the village of Cherry Plain, would provide the best available cellular coverage. Other sites were tested but, for various reasons, were found wanting. If the tower is constructed, it will be surrounded by an 80’ x 80’ fence, and it will be closed to the general public. Given the possibility of trespassers, a gate may be placed 1,500 ft. down the road from the tower. The tower will reach 150 ft., which well surpasses the potential height of nearby trees. Verizon will occupy the tower’s highest point. Currently another cell phone provider has expressed interest in leasing space below Verizon, and more may come.
After Ciolfi’s presentation, the audience was invited to speak. Eric May, a Cherry Plain resident, spoke first. May referred to Doug Goodermote as a friend and was not against him benefiting from the tower. Nonetheless, he was concerned about the tower’s possible impact on public health. Scientific studies, he argued, have shown that radio-frequency waves emitted by cellular towers could cause health problems, especially leukemia. Moreover, there are many unknowns associated with cellular towers, and it is possible that future research will expose their risks. Even if some studies downplay these concerns, such research is inconclusive.
Ciolfi agreed that we should not take the risks of cellular towers lightly. The health concerns, however, are recognized by the federal government, which bases its regulations on scientific research. Anyone who wishes to construct a tower, therefore, must comply with federal rules. The cellular tower, if built, will be lower in power than many radio towers, and it will fall well within federal guidelines. Furthermore, the health concerns are a federal issue, controlled by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Accordingly, the Town Zoning Board is prohibited from voting against the project on the grounds that it threatens public health.
Eric May was still concerned and used an example to illustrate his worry. A while ago, General Electric claimed that dumping pollutants into local waters was innocuous – they even acted within federal guidelines, yet we now know their actions had adverse environmental effects, he said. Laura French supported May’s position, and, to reinforce the claim that cellular towers pose health risks, she referenced a recent New York Times article. She also provided a petition that listed the names of twenty-five residents who opposed the project. Harold Cummings also voiced his disapproval. Like the others, his position was heavily influenced by health factors. In addition, he added that people may already have adequate cellular coverage.
There were plenty who supported the tower, however. Frank Giumarra claimed that the waves emitted by one’s television or radio could be more hazardous than radio-frequency waves emitted by cellular towers. Furthermore, road-side accidents and other similar emergencies require immediate assistance, and a cellular phone is imperative in such cases. In short, Giumarra claimed that the benefits of cellular service heavily outweigh the risks.
Berlin Town Councilman Richard von Schilgen, Berlin Town Supervisor Robert Jaeger and several others also voiced their support for the project. Von Schilgen claimed that in the past, people were unaware that motor vehicles emitted green house gases. Although we now know they do, this knowledge does not deter us from operating vehicles; their utility outweighs their detriments. Similarly, the benefits of cellular coverage outweigh the risks. Along similar lines, Jaeger argued that the benefits of cell-phones (e.g. the public safety they provide, their economic and industrial utility) supersede potential hazards. Jaeger cited a case in Petersburgh where a seventy year old man was in a car accident. Because he had cellular coverage, he was able to call and quickly receive help.
Representatives from Verizon were also available to field questions. Currently, Verizon is the only carrier occupying Berlin’s cell tower on Satterlee Hollow Road. Many residents, however, use other carriers, such as Nextel or AT&T. Originally, multiple cellular providers were supposed to occupy the tower, and several questions arose concerning this issue. Verizon’s response was that no carriers have expressed interest in leasing space on the tower. A number of economic considerations might explain this problem (e.g. given their limited resources, cellular carriers must be excessively prudent in their investments). Moreover, when a company desires to lease tower space, it must complete a number of forms and applications. If the transaction process goes well, cellular coverage can begin in around one calendar year. Various factors might obstruct the process, however, which may cause delays between 2-4 years.
Some of the audience expressed concern that the Cherry Plain tower would only serve Verizon. In response to this worry, Ciolfi claimed that from a business standpoint, it is in Mariner Tower’s best interest to seek out other companies. Also, it is part of Mariner’s policy to negotiate with any company that wishes to occupy tower space. Mariner must do so within 60 days upon receiving a request. If Mariner violates its contract, the Town may revoke its agreement with the company. He did not define what warranted a revocation, but the Zoning Board said it would clarify this point (as well as others) at its March meeting.
An Informal Vote In Favor
Finally, May and Cummings offered a final defense of their position, imploring the audience not to underestimate the potential dangers. May emphasized the importance of weighing the short-term benefits and long-term risks. The final speaker, Pam DeShane, provided a sixty-nine signature (forty-four from Cherry Plain) petition in favor of the tower. She also mentioned that cellular coverage is, from a health standpoint, invaluable, especially for adolescents. Before the hearing closed, a vote was taken. Out of the 37 residents who voted, 34 were in favor of building the cellular tower.