Residents speak out against proposed Verizon wireless tower location
It was tense in the conference room of Town Hall last Wednesday, during a public hearing about the Verizon Wireless proposal to build a supplemental tower on Gaston Street in Franklin. Residents within a 1,500-foot radius of the site were invited to the Aug. 24 hearing to learn more about the plan and to voice any concerns that they may have.
According to Verizon Wireless, there are two existing towers near Franklin. Those towers will reach the limit of their data capacity by the end of the year 2012, creating the need for another tower.
Franklin citizens that came to the hearing were not convinced that the need presented by Verizon Wireless was as great as the potential risks involved. The questionable health hazards, and the environmental impact were of the utmost importance to the people over the supposed need of Verizon Wireless. As J.M. Booth, a neighbor to the tower site, said, “Immediate needs are poor judges of justice.” Verizon Wireless attributes the rise in data usage to more and more people using their phones as portable computers and televisions.
Verizon Wireless representative, Joe Sisco, said that when the other two towers were constructed, no one considered the possibility at that time that people would be using their phones to watch television and do everything that the computer can do. Franklin citizens are looking further ahead and asking, will the tower be adequate for the future? In essence they are asking, if technology advanced that rapidly to create this need, then what will the future need be? Would they have to build yet another tower, and if so, how soon? The Verizon Wireless representatives could give no answers to these questions because they, as Sisco stated, “do not have the crystal ball to gaze into to accurately determine where technology will go.”
One of the first concerns expressed was about the possible constant noise from the proposed tower. The Verizon Wireless representatives were confused by this. They declared that they had never heard of complaints of such constant humming from any tower and that they knew of no studies done to investigate that possibility.
Karen Schulz, spokesperson for Verizon Wireless, said she did not understand their concern because of all the towers she has been in the noise is no different than what would accompany something like air conditioners. The townspeople asserted that some people are more sensitive than others to such noises. The Verizon Wireless representatives gave no answer.
The potential for health risks involved was another concern. Susan Allen said that she has young grandchildren and they spend a good deal of time outside in her yard. Based on her individual research, she said, there is enough evidence from Germany and other countries that would support the idea that the radio frequency (rf) emmissions from such towers can cause brain tumors, cancer, mental disabilities and other disorders. To this claim, Schulz said that numerous federal agencies have conducted studies over a period of years and they have not found any evidence to support that theory.
“And, nothing you say will ever convince me that this is alright,” said Allen, expressing the sentiment of the majority of the townspeople present, after Verizon Wireless explained that the tower had been deemed safe.
CTIA, a nonprofit organization that represents the wireless communiations industry, compiles the data from the studies. The researchers with CTIA stated that there are two similar forms of rf emissions. One is radioactive (used for x-rays) and the other is not radioactive (radio transmissions and cell phones). The researchers have determined that the potential for the most damage from these rf emissions is from cell phone use, in that the phone becomes hot which increases the heat in that side of the brain, but no actual damage to users has been found.
Schulz said that they have already received a letter from the FCC that projects that the tower would be less than five percent lower than the allowable emission level.
There was also a mixture of anger over the fact that Verizon Wireless has already leased the land and drawn up the plans to build the tower. Many of the towns people said that this gave them the impression that Verizon Wireless chose the site on Gaston Street for financial reasons and that they would go ahead with their construction plans despite what the town board decided later this fall.
Lisa Smith, the legal representative from the Pennington Law Firm for Verizon Wireless, explained that it was standard procedure to obtain the lease and prove that they have the parcel of land at their disposal to use.
If the town votes the tower down, then the lease that Verizon Wireless has made with George LLC (Lamar Sprinkle) will be terminated and Verizon Wireless will have to consider other sites. “I would love to keep the lease on the land,” Sprinkle said.
Sprinkle said that the Verizon Wireless representative approached him over a year ago saying that they were interested in this particular parcel of land for the tower. “I do not know who else they talked to or what other land they might have looked at, but they seemed to me to be open about what they did.
“This is not something that is lucrative for me,” Sprinkle said. “I could do something else with the land in the future ... I just have cattle there now.”
Town Planner Mike Grubermann said that there is some discrepancies on this point. “They [Verizon Wireless] say that that site is the only option they have yet they also say that they will explore other options if that site gets turned down. They just have not been very forthcoming about that,” Grubermann said.
The towns people echoed the same questions. Why was that site chosen over another and what will Verizon Wireless do if the town decides against their plan? Schulz said that the Gaston Street site was chosen based on the proximity to the other towers, the infrastructure, and topographical considerations but she could not answer for the future. She could only say that Verizon Wireless would have to come up with a Plan B if the proposal is rejected.
If the existing towers reach their capacity and the new tower is not built Verizon Wireless customers could have phone calls that would be dropped more often, some calls would not go through and some data could be lost, said Schulz.
The new tower would off-load some of the capacity strain on the two existing towers. Smith stated that “this is not a coverage issue, but a capacity issue.” She explained that people are unaware of the problem because their coverage has not been affected, but when the capacity reaches its limit, then people will be noticing a definite change. Calls will be dropped or will not go through, and they would be upset over the lack of service.
Schulz agreed. She said that people as yet do not see an impact in their service because the Verizon company is, what Schulz called, “a fluid industry,” meaning that Verizon builds up their service ahead of the demand. In this particular case, Schulz stressed that if the tower is not built that demand for service would not be met and residents in the Franklin area would begin to lose the exceptional service that Verizon is noted for. Therefore, to avoid any loss of service, Verizon Wireless proposes to build a 140 ft supplemental tower to pick up the over-capacity amounts at this location.
Schulz said that it takes from one to two years to construct a tower such as this.
About mid-day on Wednesday, Verizon Wireless customers experienced problems with cell service and reception for a couple of hours. When Verizon customers called to report the service disruption, they were greeted with an automated message that reported that cell service in the Franklin area was down due to a large volume of usage at that time. If that is the case, then that would correspond to what the Verizon Wireless representatives were relating at the hearing about service being dropped more often.
Schulz said that the outage was unrelated to the capacity issue of the towers and that the telco line connection was damaged which caused a brief outage. According to Schulz, the Verizon Wireless technicians were able to restore the connection within about 30 minutes.
The engineers originally wanted the proposed tower to be 160 feet tall, but town ordinances stipulated that the structure could not exceed 140 feet. Verizon Wireless has stated that the Gaston Street site is the only parcel of land that met both town ordinance and setback laws as well as Verizon structure stipulations. Two more public hearings are planned before the town makes its final decision as to whether Verizon Wireless can erect the tower. The hearings will be on Sept. 20 and Nov. 7.
One thing that Schulz wanted the townspeople to understand is that Verizon Wireless wants there to be open communication between the people and the company.
For more information about the health issues involved, visit www.ctia.org or direct concerns to Schulz at 1-864-987-2006.