As presented to the Saugerties town planning board on May 16, Verizon’s plans seemed relatively simple. The company wants to add its own antennae to an existing tower while removing several dishes belonging to the tower’s owner.
Hyde Clarke, an attorney for Verizon Wireless, explained that an existing array was mounted on a 130-foot-tall structure off Goat Hill Road in West Saugerties between Route 212 and the West Saugerties Road. Verizon plans to co-locate a dozen 120-foot antennae to the tower. Verizon proposes to remove three of five dish antennae, leaving two below the Verizon ones.
Following the meeting, some residents who live near the proposed cell tower explained their opposition to it. Cell towers emit radiation that can cause a variety of illnesses, they said. People living within 1500 feet of a cell tower, or those who work near one, have elevated risks of cancer, said Robin Pendergast, who lives near the Goat Hill location. Pendergast and eight other nearby residents said they would return with more of the neighbors living near the tower for the public hearing.
The planning board voted to set that public hearing at its next meeting on June 20. Verizon is seeking two special-use permits.
Clarke noted that no additional poles or towers would be built. The entire array is on the existing pole and within an existing fence. “There’s really no disturbance to that existing site,” he said.
The company provided diagrams to show the nearby facilities that it said were reaching capacity. The company also offered a structural analysis to show that the existing structure could handle the additional load, Clarke said.
Planning board member Ken Goldberg wanted to know whether Verizon owned the pole and the existing antennae. Though Verizon didn’t own the tower, Clarke replied, companies do arrange to offer unused space on their existing towers. The dish antennae are not used for telephone connections, but could be used for coordination of equipment on other towers. “If AT&T has a tower somewhere else, and they can’t get fiber to it to connect to the network, those dish antennas were communicating with each other,” Clarke explained.”
Clarke said he would provide more information about the plans of whoever owns the tower. He reiterated that three of the dish antennae would be taken down.
Goldberg wanted written verification on the structural ability of the tower to handle Verizon’s equipment and a statement about the removal of the dish antennae. Clarke also assured the board that the tower could handle Verizon’s equipment without height oe base-size modification.
Given that the plan does not increase the height or base of the tower, a review by the county planning board will not be necessary, said Dan Shuster, the board’s planning consultant. Shuster noted that the tower went up in 1983, before zoning regulations.
Companies constructing new towers must provide decommissioning plans for removal of the towers when they have outlived their usefulness. This does not apply to the tower under discussion.
Board chairman Howard Post said that the property abuts Woodstock, so “as a courtesy we should inform the Town of Woodstock.”
The existing technology on the tower was archaic, neighbor Bill Vought said after the meeting, left over from a series of line-of-sight relay towers, a type no longer in regular use. “It is not producing anything now, though they did recently put on a small radio relay for a small FM station.”
Vought claimed he saw Verizon trucks five days ago near his property, and “they were already putting up fiber-optic cable.”
“All cell towers put out electromagnetic radiation,” said Vought. “The company and the government say they are not harmful, but every study published and peer-reviewed in the last 15 or 20 years disagrees with that. My partner is electromagnetically sensitive, but even people who are not electromagnetically sensitive are affected. Some people just don’t feel it as much as others.”
Vought, who owns 22 acres, said he plans to use his property as a biodiversity preserve. “I made a commitment as a steward to my planet and to the animals, to protect them,” he said. “All species, when they work together, produce clean water, clean land, things we are in short supply of.”
Liz Shapiro, who also lives near the proposed cellular antennae, said she was also sensitive to electromagnetic radiation. After Hurricane Irene, Central Hudson installed a digital electric meter on her neighbor’s home, and over time she became sensitized to the radiation from the meter, she said. “Both of us started feeling the effects, but we didn’t know why. I was starting to feel dizzy, and she ended up eight months later in the hospital, fighting for her life.”
Shapiro said she continued to feel the effects for about two years, but had no idea why. “I can’t be near routers or WiFi,” she said. “It gives me headaches. I can’t have WiFi, I can’t have a cell phone, I can’t even be around WiFi or digital meters. I have to know where I can be and where I can’t be.”
Once a person is sensitized, the neighbors claimed, the sensitivity lasts for life. And children are more easily sensitized than adults because of their smaller bodies and developing skulls.
The neighbors said they plan to bring scientific reports showing the effects of microwave towers to the planning board hearing on June 20. They expressed surprise that board members didn’t raise the issue with Clarke during his presentation.