By Jenna O’Donnell |
LITTLE SILVER – Concerned residents are urging borough officials to find a way to rid their neighborhood of a newly erected cellular tower many of them deemed an eyesore and a potential health concern.
During a workshop and council meetings that lasted late into Monday night, angry residents lambasted the mayor and council for agreeing to let Verizon install a bulky cellular tower close to residents’ homes and Markham Place School – and for not accurately notifying them of what the new construction would entail.
“I support a regular communications tower for the safety of our town,” said Alicia Holmgren, a borough resident whose property is 200 feet from the tower. “But that is not for the safety of our town at all. That is for Verizon and that is for revenue. I’m very disappointed in every single person who looked at those plans and thought that this was a good decision.”
Verizon installed the 95-foot communications tower Wednesday, May 17 as part of an upgrade meant to address some of the “dead spots” in town that had been an ongoing issue for first responders, according to Chief of Police, Daniel Shaffery.
The installation replaced and greatly increased the height of an aging tower of approximately 60 feet and will serve the borough’s emergency services and public works and the state police and county hotlines. Verizon, which had previously proposed a tower atop a downtown commercial building, instead funded the construction of the tower in exchange for a reduced rent for placing its antennas there. The estimated cost to install the tower, had the borough funded it, would have been $150,000.
Yet residents were less thrilled with the savings and more worried about the safety, aesthetics and location of the tower. Several pointed out the unknown health risks associated with radio waves and how that could affect children at the school or in the homes nearby, while others said their property values would suffer from the proximity. Most, including the mayor and council, agreed that the tower was ugly.
“It’s not a beautiful thing,” said Mayor Robert Neff. He added that he had tried to get the word out during the discussion and planning stages of the tower, but even he hadn’t expected the tower to be quite so prominent.
Prior to the installation, the police chief said he had brought an independent company in to do a study on the potential health effects associated with the tower.
“We work here,” Shaffery said. “Obviously, that was a concern of ours. If it was built by me (my house) I’d probably be upset about it as well. But we do work here and there is nothing definitive that says this causes (health problems).”
Neff and members of the borough council agreed to move forward with residents’ requests to pay an independent third party to monitor radio waves from the tower to ensure they are within the limits agreed upon with Verizon. They also agreed to have the borough attorney look over the contract with Verizon to find out what the penalties would be to sever ties with the company. Holmgren, who started the Facebook group “Little Silver Citizens Against the Cell Tower” in hopes of getting more people involved, said she and others felt misled by the public information that had been released about the tower and disappointed in the decision-making that lead to it.
Residents who measured the distance of the tower from their yards and homes said it was built 448 feet from Markham Place School and about 80 feet from homes with children.
Holmgren, who spoke to a lawyer, said she suspected the town was buying time, and that once Verizon goes live at the tower there would be no way to get it turned off. “I’m trying to get an emergency meeting scheduled for next week so we can plead our case one more time before the tower is turned on,” she said.
“The fact that our governing body thought this was the best look is insane,” Holmgren said. “At this point, I think what everyone wants is for Verizon to not be part of it. The second thing is, if they need to keep it erected then they need to make it prettier.”
One example, she noted, was a plan approved in Sea Bright where the cell tower and base resemble a sailboat mast and lifeguard stand.
Borough officials were not sure what options were available, but assured residents they would explore their concerns and requests.
“Please come back to the next meeting,” said Councilman Dane Mihlon, who noted that many of these discussions had happened before, but with less public participation. “I really wish you were all here a year ago.”
“We’ll try to be responsive,” Neff added. “Honestly, I don’t think any of us expected this. We’ll see if there’s something that can be done.”
This article was first published in the May 25-June 1, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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