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Bethel to adopt cell tower law

By Fritz Mayer
March 24, 2011

Bethel lawmakers had intended to take a vote on a new cell tower ordinance two weeks ago. But after a resident brought up examples of other cell tower laws, the board agreed to put the vote off to consider changes to the proposed ordinance.

As originally proposed, the law would require that cell towers be no more than 200 feet tall. During a public hearing on the law, supervisor Dan Sturm said that the board had built many protections into the law, including height restrictions, and the requirement of a security fence and evergreen screens.

But Dr. Gary Friedland, who has a home within the lands of the Iroquois Hunting and Fishing Club near a site where a cell tower is slated to be constructed, said that he did a bit of research on the matter, and found that some cell tower laws now restrict the height to 20 feet above the tree line and require that the towers be camouflaged to mitigate the impact on the view shed. Friedland also said that the ordinance’s proposed setbacks from other properties, which were to be 500 feet, might not be sufficient. Proposals in other towns call for setbacks of 1,500 feet.

After laying out his case, Freidland asked the board not to vote on the matter directly after the public hearing, as is often the case in Bethel and other towns in Sullivan County, because, he said, the board should take time to reflect on what it had heard. If the board voted immediately, he said, “Public comment would be a sham, because reflection has to occur, dialogue has to occur.”

A couple of residents asked whether there would be any testing required for possible radiation from the tower. Bethel town lawyer Robert McEwan said that there was no such requirement. He said, “That was an issue early on with these towers, but I think the federal government says today it’s not an issue.”

Cell towers do emit radio frequency (RF) energy, but the Federal Communications Commission, which is charged with regulating the communications industry, says on its website: “Calculations corresponding to a ‘worst-case’ situation (all transmitters operating simultaneously and continuously at the maximum licensed power) show that, in order to be exposed to RF levels near the FCC’s guidelines, an individual would essentially have to remain in the main transmitting beam and within a few feet of the antenna for several minutes or longer. Thus, the possibility that a member of the general public could be exposed to RF levels in excess of the FCC guidelines is extremely remote.”