Allowing cell antennas to go on public property could be a financial boon for the Town of Watertown, but residents worry about the potential health risks and a proliferation of towers in town.
A joint meeting of the Town Council’s Economic Development and Planning and Public Works committees looked at the question of allowing cell phone companies to place antennas on town buildings, and other public property Tuesday.
Currently, the town does not have a way to lease public property to cellular companies to put up antennas, said Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said. Instead, the antennas go on office buildings, churches and even homes, he said.
The town has been approached by companies to see if antennas could be placed on towers such as the one at the Public Works facility on Orchard Street, said Superintendent of Public Works Gerry Mee.
The town could lease the space for $25,000 a year, said Steve, Magoon, director of Economic Development and Planning.
Councilor John Donohue said the town should act soon to take advantage of the potential financial benefit and prevent more going up on homes.
“We need to look at the future – we are already behind,” Donohue said. “If we have the potential to lease space on town property we can keep them off people’s houses.”
Resident Barbara Ruskin told the councilors she worries about the health risks from the antennas. She cited a study by the World Health Organization that found that radiation from cell phones could increase the risk of cancer.
The WHO lists cell phone radiation as the same risk as lead, engine exhaust and chloroform, according to the CNN.com article.
While she worries about the risk, Ruskin said the town should investigate and perhaps put up antennas on public property to avoid having them in residential neighborhoods.
“I don’t want towers all over our public spaces, but if they are put up in parks and get out of residential areas, we should do it,” Ruskin said.
The Federal Communications Commission, which oversees mobile phone regulations, does not consider it a health hazard, Piccirilli said.
Testimony to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that studies into the health effects of radiation from cell phones, so far, have been inconclusive, and recommended more studies be done.
In any case, the FCC has rules allowing cell phone providers to put up antennas to fill holes in their networks, Piccirilli said.
The town’s zoning bylaws prohibit antennas from going on residential buildings without a variance, he added, but because the town does not allow them to go on public property they can do so.
“Federal law trumps our zoning laws,” Piccirilli said. “We can’t reject variances.”
If companies can put antennas on public property, then the town can reject variance request to put them on private homes, Magoon said.
“If a carrier comes in and says the town is charging too much, we’ll go next door and put it on a house, we can say, ‘No’ and say you have an alternative (to use the public property),” Magoon said.
Towers in Town
Other residents worried about large towers going up around town, or a bigger one going up at the Public Works facility.
The current DPW radio tower stands at 80 feet, Mee said. He added that the tower is not sufficient to reach some parts of town, and ideally would be 100 feet tall to meet Public Works' needs.
Councilor Steven Corbett said he did not want to pay to put up a new tower so cellular companies could use it. Mee said the companies would pay to put up the tower. He said a company asked if they could build the DPW tower a few years ago, but the town declined.
The committees requested more information about cell antenna and tower bylaws used by other towns and cities, and other information from Mee and Magoon. The issue will be discussed again at the next joint meeting, on Aug. 9 at 5 p.m. in Town Hall.