Last month, 20 neighbors shared with the Saugerties town planning board their concerns about a cell phone tower proposed by Cellco Partnership/Verizon Wireless on an existing tower in West Saugerties that the company would lease. The neighbors cited numerous studies they said showed that microwaves emitted by such towers could damage the health of neighbors.
At its regular planning board meeting on Tuesday, July 18, only one couple who live close to the proposed tower attended. The board voted 4-1 to approved the site plan and special-use permit tower.
Chairman Howard Post, William Creen, Len Bourne and alternate member Dan Ellsworth voted to approve the tower. Board member Paul Andreassen voted against approval.
Post said the town’s attorney, George Redder, had advised the board that it must approve the use of the tower if its height had not been appreciably increased and if its antennae didn’t extend more than six feet from the center. He noted that the law regarding the siting of cell towers specifically forbade arguments about health effects.
The town therefore had no choice in the matter, Post explained to Robin Pendergast and Bill Vought, who live close to the tower.
Post said the town planning board and zoning appeals board had in the 1990s denied an application by Bonded Concrete to use its Kings Highway property for a concrete plant. The town was sued, and eventually had to pay the company $250,000. Given that the law clearly states that potential health risks from a cell tower may not be the basis of a refusal to allow a tower to be constructed, the planners had no choice, he said.
Verizon’s attorney, Hyde Clarke, said tests conducted by a consultant found that the tower emitted less than one percent of the permitted exposure limit set by the Federal Communications Commission. Clarke noted that questions of the structural quality of the tower were also answered. Even if the tower collapsed, the company’s lot was large enough [just under five acres] to accommodate the full length of the tower. He asked that the board set a required performance bond of $25,000.
“Legally, we know what we have to do,” Post said.
Andreassen said this week that he voted against approving the tower because of its proximity to a home and the possibility that it could damage the residents’ health. “I read some of the articles they mentioned, and there do appear to be harmful effects from radiation,” he said. Planning boards can be sued for refusing to allow projects, but they can also be sued by opponents of projects they have approved, he said. In particular he found especially troubling a Harvard University study cited by one of the residents at the meeting.
Vought and Pendergast said following the meeting they had been disappointed by the board’s decision. Vought said they would probably have to move, rather than live that close to a microwave tower. “We feel so powerless,” Pendergast said.