In a move that broadband advocates fear is part of an increasing trend, a small grassroots group forced the town government in the Westchester County suburb of Lewisboro, New York to back out of a deal with the governing board of a local church that had agreed to serve as a site for a cellular tower.
The antenna would have been mounted inside the church’s steeple, making it rise about 50 feet higher into the air, and would have been invisible to the surrounding area, which had long been prone to dropped calls and dead zones.
Residents around the church, nonetheless, took umbrage at the deal. They formed an ad hoc group called Concerned Residents Against the Church Cell Tower, later changing their name to Alliance of Residents Against the Church Cell Tower (ARACCT) when it was pointed out that the original assignation formed the acronym “CRACCT.” But that might have been the only public relations mistake they made.
Proponents of the tower, who had hoped its addition would fill in coverage on a heavily traveled section of Route 123 as well as provide service to Meadow Pond Elementary School, feel the town did not engage the group strongly enough. Ironically, ARACCT used the location of the school as a touchstone in its campaign, “Educate, Don’t Radiate,” which brought up questionable data on the health effects of radio. While ARACCT’s Web site featured some European studies of electromagnetic radiation, no study was completed later than 1985 and most of them focused on high-power, high-frequency microwave radio, not the low-power, FM frequencies cellular services use. One study on cellular service, purporting to establish “health effects from towers in Spain,” relied on a self-selecting questionnaire that asked residents whether the local cell tower made them sick and drew its conclusions on the basis that most respondents answered “Yes.” The Web site, nocellhere.org, has since been taken down.
Meanwhile, supporters of the service pointed out that without the additional wireless coverage, it will be difficult to impossible to call for emergency assistance should there be an injury on Meadow Park school’s athletic fields or on the roads around the school.
Speaking at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s IT and Telecom Task Force meeting in Phoenix in December, Anthony Wilson, director of external affairs for Sprint Nextel, said 240,000 wireless E911 calls are made each day in the U.S.
At the same meeting, ALEC approved model legislation that would expedite the tower siting process. (See sidebar.)
Lewisboro has yet to rule on an alternate plan drafted in the first quarter of 2006–almost one year ago–to place a tower at the local fire department. The fire department was located nearly a mile south of the proposed church location and about a mile from the Connecticut border, thus limiting the area of Lewisboro that it would cover. In addition, in terms of the terrain, the fire department site is nearly 100 feet lower than the proposed church tower site, requiring the tower to be that much higher.
J.D. Piro ([email protected]) is a freelance writer and regular columnist for the weekly Lewisboro (New York) Ledger.