A public hearing on a proposed cellular telephone tower on Goat Hill Road has implications beyond the specific location. About a dozen speakers of the 20 or so area residents at the Saugerties town planning board meeting cited health studies showing damage to people living near the towers. To blame, they said, was radiation emitted from cellphone transmissions.
The plan is to locate a dozen Verizon antennae on an existing tower owned by Goosetown Net Services, said Verizon’s attorney, Hyde Clarke. The 130-foot height of the tower would not be increased, and three existing dish antennae no longer in use would be removed. “You can see there would be no visual impact, in fact it may lower the visual impact through the removal of those bulky antennas that are coming down,” he said.
Planning board consultant Dan Shuster noted that an FCC ruling excluded questions of public safety from the board’s determination. , and he asked that speakers be restricted from commenting on this issue. Several in the audience expressed amazement that an agency concerned with communications would be ruling on health issues, and that considerable research into the effects of cellular communications has taken place since the law was passed.
Susan Weeks, who has worked as a physician’s assistant in emergency rooms, said she recalls the days when X-rays and CT scans were considered perfectly safe. Later research has shown that these tools should be limited, as long-term exposure can affect health.
“Even dentists are saying now that because the effects are cumulative, you don’t have to have X-rays every time,” she said. “There are a lot of studies that show that cell tower radiation is not good for human health,” she said. “More and more is coming out as we speak, and we do not want this cell tower in our neighborhood.”
Shuster reminded Weeks that the health effects of radiation are specifically placed off limits for local planning boards. “But local boards can consider the opinions of the neighbors,” Weeks responded. “We would like you to take into consideration the opinions of the neighbors who live around this cell tower and this neighbor is saying we don’t need it and we don’t want it.”
Weston Blalock told the board that Verizon had told the planners no one lives near the tower. In fact, Bill Vought and Robin Pendergrast within 200 feet of the tower, he said. The Federal Communications Commission does allow the planning board some latitude on cell tower placement, Blalock argued. Tower applications can also be denied for aesthetic and property-value considerations. “In 2014 the National Institute for Science, Law and Public Policy surveyed 1000 people. Ninety percent of the respondents said that cell towers and antennas in the neighborhood would negatively affect their interest in the property and the price they would be willing to pay for it.”
Rob Kilpert of Kerhonkson presented a chart showing the frequencies of electromagnetic radiation, from some wave forms through radio frequencies to microwave radiation. At the top are X-rays, microwaves and cellphone frequencies. “The telecommunications act of 1996 was the first time ever that a preemptive health regulation oversight was given to a non health agency, the FCC, to adopt and enforce standards for radiation,” Kilpert said. He asserted that it has been shown that repeated exposure to microwaves can be as life-threatening as repeated X-ray exposures.
Robin Pendergrast questioned the need for the additional tower, as surrounding cell phone users already hade excellent service. “Based on the research I have done, and Verizon’s application, I don’t see the need,” she said. Reading from the Verizon’s analysis, Pendergrast said the description of the need for a tower “concerns a lot of ifs and maybes — vague language, which scares me.” Verizon’s analysis states that a tower within an identified area, the Goat Hill Road vicinity, might provide improved services, but would not guarantee it. Pendergrast asked Verizon’s engineer whether this means that he can’t be sure the tower would meet the stated need.
Engineer Henry Parra said the statement that a site might not fill the holes in the communications net is a general caution. “Once we find a location, we analyze it,” he said. Pendergrast asked whether Parra was saying that this site would meet the need, and Parra said it would.
The area the tower is intended to cover includes a landfill and an equipment storage building, as opposed to the site with several houses nearby, Pendergrast said. Why was that specific location chosen? Parra noted that extensive analysis was done once the area is identified.
Pendergrast said her present cellphone quality and that of her neighbors was good.
When several in the audience began to second her assertion, board chairman Howard Post warned that speaking out of turn would not be tolerated, and asked that people who wanted to speak should wait to be recognized by the chair.
Pendergrast said she had been given the impression that nothing the neighbors might say would prevent approval. Board member Ken Goldberg assured her that this was not the case. The board can approve or disapprove the application, but it could not use the health effects of radiation as the basis.
Pendergrast said the regulations appear to be saying that the board must ignore the damaging effects of radiation, but “it’s very telling when the Verizon representative starts the meeting by saying ignore everything about how these people might suffer. But if the FCC ignores it, if you ignore it, it’s still going to kill us. We can’t ignore it.”
Parra explained that one of the towers, labeled “Woodstock” on the map, was receiving the maximum traffic it could handle. He showed the board graphs that demonstrated that two of the towers periodically received more calls than they could transmit, creating the need for another tower.
“Woodstock has a very small population, less than 6000 people,” responded Pendergrast. “With such a small population, how can the system be overloaded?”
Parra explained that people are increasingly using their phones to watch movies and connect with the Internet while dropping their landline telephone service, placing more pressure on the cellphone system.|
Verizon does not just put up additional towers without careful analysis, Parra said. “We have limited funds,” he explained, drawing laughter from the skeptical crowd.
Pendergrast noted that one of the criteria for approving a special-use permit is “compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood and to assure the longterm benefit to the town.” She cited a paragraph in the ordinance that states “no activity shall be permitted which emits dangerous radioactivity or electrical disturbances that would jeopardize the health of any employee or adjacent resident or property or otherwise adversely affect the operation of any equipment that’s on the premises.”
Bill Vought, a U.S. Army veteran who will be 71 this year, said he had served 13 months in Vietnam, and received a Purple Heart and other medals. “Because of stress-related disorders, I am on 100 percent disability,” he said. He was looking for a quiet place to live, and thought he had found it in Saugerties. He acquired enough land to set up a biodiversity reserve, he said, but that would be threatened by an adjacent microwave tower. “Birds will abandon their nests, and bees will abandon their hives when assaulted by the mass of radiation that emanates from a cell tower.”
Since the law barred residents from expressing health concerns, Vought said he is considering quality of life.
Later in the meeting Liz Shapiro described symptoms she has of hypersensitivity to radio waves. She cannot be around cell phones, some types of radio transmission and similar devices without feeling headaches, nausea and general discomfort, she said. She limits her social contacts to avoid these devices.
Steve Romano cited a study that showed dramatically increased incidence of neoplasia [the formation of tumors or uncontrolled growth of abnormal tissue] in a study in Belo Horizonte Brazil, an area with many towers. This study revealed a much larger percentage of individuals suffering from this disease than previous studies. The study showed dramatic differences between where cell towers were concentrated and more rural areas with fewer towers.
Other speakers noted that they had children whose health concerned them, that European countries are banning some forms of microwave transmission, that microwaves can cause birth defects, and that there are other reasons the planners can give to deny the application without specifying the ill effects of microwave radiation.
The board voted to defer ita decision until at least the next meeting on July 18 at 7:30 p.m. Verizon will be required to put money in an escrow account, with the amount to be determined by the town’s attorney. The board will also have an independent engineer review the company’s plans, Post said