Residents came out to express their concerns to the Town Council about proposed cell phone antennae in two locations in Watertown.
The concern is not just about possible health concerns from having a cell antenna near homes, but also about the new regulations that make it more difficult for communities to deny new cell phone antenna locations.
Keenan Brinn, representing ExteNet — which is petitioning for the antennae — said the company seeks to put up one antenna on a utility pole at 141 Palfrey Street and one on a pole at 550 Arsenal Street. The company also seeks to put one near the main intersection of Watertown Square, in the vicinity of Charles River Road, but that falls under the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s jurisdiction.
“ExteNet is interested in building out the fifth generation cellular network, otherwise know as 5G,” Brinn said.
The antennae would be on the top of two utility poles owned by Eversource with a brown cylinder around the antenna and a meter, and an equipment box halfway up the pole, Brinn said.
Before the discussion started at Tuesday’s meeting, Town Council President Mark Sideris said that despite being advertised as a vote by the Council, the proposals will first go to the Council’s Public Works Committee for a more in depth discussion.
“I will take responsibility for putting the cart before the horse,” Sideris said. “We should have gone to subcommittee first.”
He added that the Council is limited to what it can do when it comes to health, according to new regulations on cellular providers passed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in September.
“Federal law does not allow us to discuss health issues on cellular equipment, so I am going to ask you, do not go to the health issue because that is not something any of us can deal with,” Sideris said.
Resident Dan Grossman said that most of the people at the hearing came because they have concerns about the safety of cell antennae.
“I just want to say that Federal law does not prohibit you from discussing health concerns. Federal law prohibits you from using health concerns as criteria for making a decision,” Grossman said. “Aside from the legal issue, I think the science is contentious. The reason you are not suppose to use that as criteria is because the telecom industry did not want it to get in the way of putting antennae where ever they want to. “
Resident Paul Lithotomos, who lives a street over from Palfrey Street, said he has concerns about the impact an antenna would have on people living in the, including his children.
“People say not clear that it’s unsafe, but it’s not clear that it’s safe, either,” Lithotomos said. “I am a biologist. I like data. Show us the data that it’s safe. If it is not safe, we shouldn’t put it up.”
Sharon Bauer, a resident, noted that the World Health Organization classifies cell phone towers and mobile phones as possible carcinogens and is considering reclassifying them to probable carcinogens.
The new Federal regulations also seem to get in the way of local and state regulations, said resident Elodia Thomas. She noted that Watertown’s zoning rules for wireless communication facilities do not allow cell antennae in areas zoned for residential use, within 50 feet of a residential zone, or any structure with any residential use.
Thomas added that she is not 100 against improving the cellular coverage in town.
“I will not be totally negative because many people in Town want better cell reception,” Thomas said. “I happen to live in an area where it absolutely stinks.”
Councilor Angeline Kounelis noted that some of the bigger apartment buildings already have cellular antennae on their roofs.
“When you bring up neighborhoods, residents should drive around town and look at apartment buildings and see how they are loaded with cellular antennae. Many of us have been voicing concerns for decades,” Kounelis said. “People are sleeping right under these antennae, it is sad. Many of residents of the properties probably do not even know the antennae are there. Bottom line, the property owners allow this to happen.”
Thomas suggested bringing the issue to the Massachusetts Attorney General, because many communities have concerns. Grossman said Watertown does not have to just go along with the new regulations.
“I am not sure if little Watertown is going to sue the Federal government or is going to try to buck the Federal Telecom Act, but those things do happen,” Grossman said. “Towns say, ‘We have come to this conclusion, and sue us if you want, we’ll take it to the Supreme Court.’ I am not suggesting this is something we should be doing, but I suggest we should be looking into this and see if this is something that Watertown wants, or not, and to act accordingly.”
Town Attorney Mark Reich said that the new regulations do not take effect until Jan. 1, 2019, but he added that under the previous regulations the town has 150 days to act on a petition for a cell antennae. The proposal was made at the end of July, so the time period is more than half over.
Speaking on his own behalf, Sideris said he wants to make the right decision for the people of Watertown.
“I have no concern of the timeline. Separating myself, on behalf of myself, we are going to get this right. We are going to have a policy in place that takes care of the community,” Sideris said. “We are going to get this right for the Town of Watertown, not what is right for ExteNet or other cellular providers.”
The Council voted to send the two proposals to the Public Works subcommittee for more discussion. Keenan said he would attend and would bring others from ExteNet, including a health and safety expert.
The date of the meeting has not been announced.