ROCKLAND — “Something could be installed tomorrow and no one has to tell the City,” said Councilor Sarah Austin. “That’s my concern.”
At a Feb. 13 vote of four to one, with Councilor Nicole Kalloch in opposition, the Rockland City Council agreed to proceed with a draft ordinance as a baseline of how cellular companies bring their business to the City.
Currently, said Austin, “The door is wide open. The doors don’t even exist. If this passes tonight, it goes into effect in 30 days. The bottom line for me is that there is still 30 days of zero regulation whatsoever.”
Kalloch voted no during the meeting, wanting to first discuss the matter with City Attorney Mary Costigan. However, Costigan was on vacation.
As Councilor Penny York said, right now, Rockland has no protection.
Having voted to continue with the topic, the City subsequently scheduled a discussion with Attorney Andrew Campanelli regarding small wireless facilities in the right of way (5G Technology).
“The technology does evolve, and if they get ahead of us...we’ve seen what happens with that before,” said Austin.
If possible, City Councilors wish to initiate a moratorium on cellular company permits until at least two goals are met:
• To make sure that when a cellular business decides to come to Rockland, the City knows what’s happening; and,
• Provide the City as much control as it can manage against the federal regulations, in particular the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996.
“Big corporate interests like to take advantage of the power imbalance when they are dealing with small communities,” said Austin. “Whether or not this goes forward tonight, or whether we would consider a moratorium, I think that we need to consider this a starting point.”
The Feb. 13 Council meeting began with more than an hour of public comment.
A number of residents expressed concerns about radiation emitted from the tower apparatus; in particular, from the newer boxes that house technology for 5G wireless.
They referenced the 120-foot tall cellular tower that was erected in 2021 on Camden Street next to Pizza Hut after the cellular company appealed the Rockland Planning Board’s building permit denial. The case went to federal court, and in November 2020, the ruling was in favor of tower developers Bay Communications III LLC, based in Mansfield, Massachusetts.
City Planner Rhett Lamb said at the Feb. 13 meeting that reviewing cellular towers using health concern criteria remains outside the authority of local government.
“What you heard about health related concerns — we may all be concerned about,” said Lamb. “We may all have our own conclusions to draw from that information. But, until we are allowed, as a local government, to regulate based on those concerns, or those issues, I would suggest that those are not the type of standards that we would want to introduce into this local ordinance.”
Lamb went on to suggest that given the quick turnaround of licensing applications, the City might want to add a public notice requirement to its ordinance. The City has 60 days to render a decision on preexisting facilities, and 90 days for new facilities.
“I would encourage Council to consider this as a work in progress,” said Austin. “I think that some of the things in here, as described in some of the comments that we had, absolutely could be augmented or changed, but I think getting this ball rolling will, again, at least put these companies on notice that we are aware they exist, that we have standards and procedures, and that they can’t just come in, in sort of under-the-cover-of-night, to start installing things that folks do, obviously, have concerns about.”
Reach Sarah Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org