By Jenna O’Donnell |
LITTLE SILVER – Amid concern from the community over a 95-foot cell tower that recently went live in the center of town, borough officials and residents have formed a committee to explore alternatives – even as political opposition and a local grassroots movement continue to apply pressure to “Get the Cell Out.”
“Things that go up can come down,” said Jennifer Borenius, a mom of four who has played an active role in anti-cell tower efforts, recently helping to lead a meeting to talk about the cell tower and possible resolutions. “If we say there’s nothing we can do, we’re powerless.”
In bright red letters, the “Get the Cell Out” message adorns dozens of lawn signs across the borough as the grassroots campaign, Little Silver Against the Cell Tower – or ACT – has built support on Facebook and at recent meetings.
“We are trying to make people understand that they still have a voice – even though it’s up and, unfortunately, live,” Borenius said. “We’re hoping that the town is doing its due diligence at this time to try to work with us to find some resolution.”
The group, along with many residents and parents concerned by potential long-term negative health effects for their children and decreases in property values, has been applying pressure to the mayor and council to find a way to relocate the Verizon-funded tower that currently stands in the parking lot behind borough hall – fewer than 500 feet from Markham Place School and its nearby sports fields.
To further explore the options and legal hurdles necessary to relocate or remove the cell tower, two residents and members of the group will form a cell tower committee with Mayor Robert Neff, Board of Education president Chris Smith and councilmembers AJ McNally and Donald Galante.
As officials work with residents on options going forward, Little Silver borough council candidate Christopher Healy is proposing a November ballot referendum to ask residents whether the telecommunications portion of the tower should be moved to a more suitable location. The decision to relocate a prominent cell tower should be one that is made by the entire community, Healy argues in a statement.
That sentiment was shared by many of the more than 130 residents, parents and business owners who filled an assembly room at Markham Place School for a May 31 meeting organized by ACT to share information and coordinate efforts. The loosely affiliated group shared research and statistics related to health concerns associated with telecommunications towers, restrictions on their construction within 1,500 feet of schools in other communities, and known negative effects to real estate value.
“We don’t believe in some conspiracy theory that allowed this to happen,” said Marc Gasperino, during the meeting. “But that out there is too big for a small group of people to decide.” Gasperino, a father of three and one of the two non-borough officials to join the cell tower committee, also shared a timeline of how the current version of the cell tower, funded by Verizon as part of a 25-year lease on borough property, came to be.
The cell tower was originally conceived as a replacement for an aging 50-foot radio tower that had been providing inadequate coverage for the fire, police and emergency services that relied on it for communications. Replacing that tower would have cost the borough about $150,000. In 2015, the council looked into partnering with a wireless provider in an effort to save the borough money, create revenue and provide additional cellphone coverage for the community. Verizon, which had been seeking approval to erect a cellphone tower on top of a commercial building nearby, eventually stepped in. In May, many residents were shocked and appalled by the size, prominence and location of the cell tower that went up, and many have come out at recent council, board of education and community meetings to express their displeasure.
Though the May 31 meeting was meant to be apolitical and free of “pitchforks,” the discussion grew heated at times, notably when state Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-13) a longtime borough resident and former council member stood up to address accusations that he had sold out his neighbors while helping to negotiate the construction of the cell tower. O’Scanlon rebuked residents who had lashed out at him and other officials and maintained that he had served honorably throughout his career.
O’Scanlon, who has worked with municipalities to negotiate with wireless communications providers for the placement of towers and other equipment for about 20 years with Red Bank- based FSD Enterprises, volunteered his services to help the borough weigh its options back in 2015. He and others who work in the telecommunications industry say that the growing demand for service has made cell towers a must-have in communities and necessary for public safety in a world where people rely on cellphones.
“I don’t like cellphone towers more than anyone else,” O’Scanlon said, noting that he had gotten into the business after fighting against a cell tower while a member of the borough council more than 20 years prior. “I do my best to limit the number. I realize that this is something that nobody wants to look at.”
If there were a known hazard from cell towers, O’Scanlon said he would want to know about it, and said he had spent years researching that concern himself. Skeptical residents were not convinced.
“There are plenty of things that in the past people thought were safe and found to be otherwise later on,” Borenius said, naming examples like asbestos and lead. “We don’t want to err on this.”
Borenius urged residents to come back for a June 12 council meeting at 6:30 p.m. at Markham Place School, where the mayor and council will discuss next steps for the borough.
Residents fear that the new cell tower behind borough hall may only be the beginning, as the 95-foot monopole has space along which three other carriers can place nodes. That space would be leased directly from Verizon in a process that would not include the borough. A June 5 request for public notice submitted to The Two River Times newspaper for publication by EBI Consulting on behalf of Mobillite LLC proposes to construct a 75-foot monopole and associated equipment at Prospect Avenue and Markham Place in Little Silver.
The exact address and location of the proposed pole was unclear. Little Silver borough administrator, Kimberly Jungfer, was not familiar with the proposal and whether it would be an inclusion to the current cell tower or a separate construction. Mayor Robert Neff did not respond to requests for clarification.
This article was first published in the June 8-June 15, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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