Massachusetts Village Wants Cell Antenna for Emergency Response, but Activists Say it Will Harm Health

During an hour-long organizational meeting, Centerville residents expressed concern about the health, wellness and other effects the antennas could have on the community.

by Geoff Spillane, Cape Cod Times / April 19, 2018
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(TNS) — CENTERVILLE — "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" could be the rallying cry of Centerville Concerned Citizens, the group of residents formed earlier this month to oppose installation of cell antennas in the South Congregational Church steeple.

Told by Barnstable officials that the church met zoning regulations for installation of the T-Mobile equipment, the group remains committed to stopping the antennas from powering on later this spring.

Nearly 75 people attended an organizational meeting at the Centerville Public Library on Tuesday evening, vowing to continue generating awareness of potential dangers — health, environmental, fire and even decreased property values — associated with the antennas.

"We are only as strong as our collective voice," Sarah Burns, a leader of the group, told meeting attendees. "Let the church know how concerned we are."

Burns reiterated what she has said publicly in recent weeks: The group, upset that there was no public input on the project, is not anti-church and would even support it with fundraising events to make up revenue if the T-Mobile contract is broken, which they estimated to be $30,000 annually.

Burns fears the church may be struggling financially and was a vulnerable target for T-Mobile.

"That's troubling," she said.

During the hourlong meeting, many residents expressed concern about health and wellness effects the antennas could have on the community.

"I find it despicable what they (the church) are doing," said Tony Day, of Centerville, who attended with his young son. "Putting people in danger is not Christian."

One Centerville resident urged the group to take caution, saying he could not live without his cellphone and parts of the village are in need of better coverage.

"Just a thought before you shoot the goose who lays the golden egg," he said.

Corrine Whitaker, a seasonal Centerville resident, has successfully fought installation of cell tower equipment in her home town of Sherborn. Even though the Sherborn project was not as far along as that at South Congregational, she doesn't think it's too late to put the brakes on the local project.

"The tide is turning and people understand the dangers more," she said. "If the church gets the message and they are smart and can get out of the contract, then they should."

Leaders of the Centerville-Osterville-Marstons Mills Fire District planned on attending the meeting to answer fire- and safety-related questions, but were at the wake of Yarmouth Police Officer Sean Gannon.

There were no church officials in attendance at the meeting, but two members of the Centerville Concerned Citizens organization are scheduled to meet privately on Wednesday with church leaders and a T-Mobile representative.

The South Congregational Church Building and Grounds Committee issued a statement saying it takes the health and safety of the community seriously, but pointed out that other churches on Cape Cod have cell antennas and there has been no community backlash.

"This relationship with T-Mobile enables the Church to continue and expand its vital mission to those in need in our local community and beyond, while improving cell service in the Centerville and Craigville Beach vicinity," the statement read. "This cell service is vital to first responders and those seeking to contact police and first responders in emergency situations and reflects our commitment to the well-being of our community."

After Wednesday's meeting, the next move by Centerville Concerned Citizens is unclear, but some village residents say they may start picketing the church as soon as this Sunday.

Legal action against the church does not appear off the table, either.

Centerville Concerned Citizens has started working with local attorney Paul Revere III, according to Janet Davis, a group leader whose family owns the 1856 Country Store located directly next door to the church.

A call to Revere had not been returned as of late Tuesday.

"Whatever it takes, we're ready to fight it," Day said.

©2018 Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.