Hamburg City Council last week denied the appeal of several residents who asked that a cell phone tower not be constructed in a local neighborhood.
Council members heard from 13 speakers both for and against the new cell tower which the city’s Planning and Zoning Committee approved Sept. 12. The AT&T project located the tower at 513 Hickory St.
The committee gave notice of the issue in the local newspaper twice and had a public hearing before voting on the issue. During the public hearing in September, Maggie Ware, a member of the Planning and Zoning Committee, voiced her concerns about the cell phone tower and voted against it.
The approval still passed at that time, but Ware later filed an appeal to the Hamburg City Council.
City Attorney Paul Keith said in order to overturn the decision of the planning and zoning commission, there had to be a vote of four council members.
Last Monday night, Ware and others from the impacted neighborhood, representatives from AT&T, and other members of the community spoke to the council about why they were for or against the tower.
Ware as well as all of the others who spoke against the project said they agreed Hamburg needed a tower, but they didn’t want it in their neighborhood. They instead wanted to put it in someone else’s neighborhood.
“I would love to see a cell phone tower in Hamburg, but what I am against is it being placed in our neighborhood,” Ware said. “All of the people running around here saying they want this tower don’t live in our neighborhood.”
She also said that two other property owners were approached and didn’t want the tower before the property owners of 513 Hickory agreed to lease their property.
“The other two people didn’t want it, so why are you forcing it on Hickory Street?” she said.
The property owners were not present to say whether or not they were forced into the situation, though documents on file show where property owner, D. Booker, entered into an agreement with AT&T and there is nothing to suggest they were forced into the agreement.
“We don’t come to Pine Ridge bothering y’all, so please don’t come to our neighborhood bothering us,” Ware said.
Ware said AT&T has already been working on the site and that Monday’s meeting was just a formality.
“I know there is a barb-wired fenced there because I climbed over it,” Ware said.
Earl Pollock, who said he lives less than 200 yards from where the tower will be located, said he did not have a problem with the tower and felt that the city needed it.
Ware said that 50 percent of people say the presence of such towers cause cancer and 50 percent of people say it doesn’t and she didn’t know who to believe. Ware had no documents or studies to argue either side. Ware also said it was done with secrecy.
Tina Dunn, who also lives in the area, said she didn’t know anything about the meeting until the day of the meeting.
Keith pointed out where notice was published in the local newspaper weeks prior to the meeting.
“For a point of information for the council, on Aug. 28 and Sept. 4 a notice was published in the Ashley County Ledger,” Keith said, reading the notice, which specified when the meetings regarding the cell phone tower would be held and where it would be placed.
Keith also pointed out that a notice was posted on the property as required by the ordinance.
Dunn said the neighborhood is the most unkept place in the city and that they’ve asked for improvements and the city has not granted them, but they are now forcing them to host the tower.
Resident Pam Smith said that she had done hours of research, but didn’t print any out because there was “too much.” She told the council about a few Websites that have published studies on the dangers of cell phone towers that contradict what the Federal Communications Commission says.
In early October, the Federal Communications Commission released a statement regarding the Hamburg tower, confirming that cell phone towers are regulated and that they are not a danger to the public. Neil Grace, the senior communications advisor for the FCC, said at the time that RF emissions from antennas used for cellular and PCS transmissions result in exposure levels on the ground that are typically thousands of times below safety limits. Grace said that the safety limits were adopted by the FCC based on recommendations of expert organizations and endorsed by agencies of the federal government responsible for health and safety.
Smith asked why the city was pushing for the cell phone tower so hard. She asked if the city was getting grant money for the new fire station.
Hamburg Mayor Dane Weindorf said the city isn’t pushing the cell phone tower issue and that the issue had nothing to do with grant money for the new fire station.
Greg Staggs, who represented the engineering firm who will construct the tower, said that he does approximately 300 applications per year and he has never been turned down by a city for a cell phone tower. He also brought maps and documents to present to the council to show how and why AT&T arrived at the choice for a location.
“Our company has been working on this location where the cell phone tower was proposed at for quite some time,” Staggs said. “From what I understand, over 200 people from Hamburg signed a petition and sent it to AT&T saying we need additional coverage in Hamburg. That’s why the money is being spent to build this tower.”
Kelly Gotsponer spoke representing First Net, part of the 911 Commission recommendation to bring public safety broadband and communications to first responders. Gotsponer said the cell phone tower would improve public safety and how not having it could negatively impact the community.
Ashley County in particular is one of those counties that really needs additional coverage,” Gotsponer said. “It’s unreasonable for our first responders to carry two and three and four devices so that they have adequate coverage from every carrier in the area.”
Geroganna Cossey with the Hamburg Chamber spoke about the impact the limited cell phone coverage has on the town and the economy. Cossey said that economically the cell phone tower would boost the town tremendously, but that she didn’t want the town’s success to be at the expense of any of the residents. “I did a bit of research myself to decide where I stand on this issue,” Cossey said. She read studies from the American Cancer Society that state that at this time there are no studies confirming that cell phone towers cause harm. She also read a study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and stated the exposure to the brain from the cell phone based stations is less than 1/100th of the exposures when we have our phones up to our heads.
“They also compare it to microwaves and I think we all have microwaves and cell phones,” Cossey said.
Others said there has to be a compromise, if the neighborhood residents surrounding 513 Hickory didn’t want it, that maybe a different location could be chosen.
Darius Crite said that he visits and works out in the neighborhood in question.
“I think the argument today is not whether or not the cell tower causes cancer,” Crite said. “I think that maybe the city can find an area that accommodates both people who do want it and those who don’t want it.
“I don’t know if that cell phone tower is in the center of town or not, but I do feel like there is an area that can accommodate both people who may feel like they could get cancer from it or not.”
Staggs explained that the company had already invested money in studying where the perfect location would be and had already spent time reaching out to property owners to come to an agreement. The likelihood of AT&T spending time to research another location is unlikely considering there is a waiting list.
A few of the council members spoke and asked questions following the 13 speakers. All of the council agreed the city needs the tower and some even said if there was an option to compromise they would look into it, but AT&T didn’t give the option. Councilwoman Derinda Stanley said she has to drive to Crossett at times to use her phone and that she had been one of the people advocating for better cell service.
When it came time to vote on the issue, Smith asked if Councilwoman Beverly Mays was going to be allowed to vote since her family had an interest in the property in question.
Mays said that she had gotten 25 calls from people in her Ward — which is the neighborhood in question — and of all of the calls only five of them want the tower. Therefore, her vote would have been against the tower because she wants to represent her people; however, since members of the audience were concerned about her vote being biased, she refrained.
The council voted 4:1 to deny the appeal with Councilman Daniel Shelton being the sole “no” vote. Keith said denying the appeal meant that the cell phone tower construction could proceed.
Ware said before the meeting closed that she would be filing another appeal in circuit court.