Public should fight cell towers at every opportunity
September 22, 2010
Colonia residents are preparing for a fight familiar to residents in many communities across Central Jersey. They want to try to prevent a proposed cell-phone tower from going up near their homes.
The problem — as those many other residents in other communities have encountered as well — is that the legal odds are stacked against them. Local zoning officials can only do so much in trying to block such a project — they need more cause than simply disliking the plan. Cell-phone providers have the Telecommunications Act of 1996 working for them, which prevents municipalities from denying a project because of health concerns or when other providers have already been allowed to mount towers.
So it's an uphill battle at best. All we can say to those Colonia residents is to fight on and exhaust your options. Because there's no reason for residents to feel they must sit back and accept another cell tower in their midst.
This isn't a typical NIMBY protest - neighbors unwilling to accept a worthy project near their own homes, regardless of the common public good it may serve. The proposal by T-Mobile for a 120-foot antenna pole at the intersection of Jordan Road and Inman Avenue is merely an effect of business competition among cell-phone providers. The relentless quest is for better and broader and clearer coverage, which explains the proliferation of towers across the Central Jersey landscape. Companies are fighting for customers and want to provide the best possible service. Good for them.
But why should any residents in any town staring at the prospect of another tower near their backyards care about that? Why should they help Company A get a leg up on Company B?
Among the public benefits the cell-phone companies like to claim — and also use as part of the legal effort to force acceptance of the projects — is to assure 911 emergency access by cell phone. The tactic has worked in the courts, but not in the court of public opinion. After all, have the old-fashioned "landlines" really become so obsolete that they don't even count anymore?
It's also important to recognize that what the providers refer to as coverage "gaps" don't typically mean areas where their service goes entirely dead. They're more often looking to shore up areas where signals are weaker. In other words, there's nothing close to a greater common good at stake here, no reason for residents to go meekly into the night.
Neighbors may not want to fight what they fear is inevitable. But those willing to get involved and search out the options receive our praise and encouragement, and many are expected to turn out at Thursday's zoning board meeting. The little guys sometimes win. But we'll never know unless they try.