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Delaware Residents Fighting to Keep 5G Off the Beach

The opposition follows a trend among Dewey Beach, Del., residents who are frustrated the town has little control over wireless infrastructure installed in areas maintained by the Delaware Department of Transportation.

by Emily Lytle, Dover Post / March 3, 2021
Cell phone tower at Routes 1&9 and Duncan Avenue in Jersey City. TNS

(TNS) — During a Dewey Beach, Del., town meeting Tuesday, residents described the new 5G wireless poles that have been showing up along the beach as "disgusting," "cockamamey," "ugly" and "absolutely ridiculous."

The opposition follows an ongoing trend among community members and commissioners who are frustrated that the town has little control over wireless infrastructure installed on roads and rights of way maintained by the Delaware Department of Transportation.

Mayor  Dale Cooke  said DelDOT owns and operates most of the roads and rights of way in Dewey Beach, setting up a distinct challenge when it comes to regulating wireless infrastructure planned on these streets.

Cooke said he and the town agree with many of the residents' comments, especially aesthetic concerns about the poles obstructing beach views.

"We have no desire for (the 5G poles)," Cooke said. "It's because of federal regulations and state regulations that we're required to allow them in, and we're doing everything we can to properly regulate them."

Now, Dewey Beach is one step closer to that goal of tightening its grip on what wireless infrastructure can look like and where it can go within town limits.

Following the 2 1/2 -hour hearing, Dewey Beach Town Council unanimously voted in favor of a new ordinance, which sets design standards for future wireless poles and equipment.

This list of standards was approved separately and included several requirements, including:

— Poles must be at least 50 feet from the midpoint of a beach entrance.

— New structures must be at least 100 feet from each other.

— Wireless companies should first consider installing equipment on existing utility or light poles, known as colocating.

The only changes to these standards were a clarification that new poles must be 100 feet from each other and that the distancing requirements did not apply if a company wished to colocate its equipment near existing wireless technology.

While the town council is hopeful that the ordinance and standards will help prevent more poles that take away from the "small beach town aesthetic," right now telecommunications companies still go through DelDOT for permitting and approval.

The town planned to amend an agreement with the state, which would give Dewey Beach control over the permitting process for all wireless infrastructure installed within town limits, except on the rights of way along Route 1.

But that decision was tabled for the commissioners to discuss and vote upon at a future meeting.

Remaining concerns

The new ordinance responded to some of the concerns from town residents like those who spoke at Tuesday's hearing.

One common thread was a question posed by resident  Allen Winton : "Who cares about 5G at the beach?"

Town Manager  Bill Zolper  echoed his sentiments earlier in the meeting when he asked why wireless companies were installing 5G poles to serve people on the beach when that area is only highly populated during the summer months. His thought follows a common argument that the poles should move west toward Route 1.

Both Winton and  Marty Seitz , who is a resident and planning commissioner, agreed.

They raised concerns about these companies investing in structures near the beach simply so visitors can stream videos or "have the convenience of downloading their funny cat videos whenever they want."

Others, like resident  Rick Judge , questioned whether there is truly a need for 5G when residents are satisfied with the strength of their cellular and internet services.

In response, a representative from AT&T  Joe Divis  said, "I think if there wasn't a need we would be deploying our capital elsewhere."

Divis joined the call to respond to questions from commissioners and said he wished to build a stronger relationship with the community.

Still, many residents said they were ready to battle telecommunications companies that they believe are "ruining their peaceful and idyllic views," as Dewey Beach resident  Joanne Fabrizio  said.

"I'm really disturbed and upset that this is even happening, that we're letting these big tech companies overrule all the citizens and homeowners of Dewey Beach," she said.

Many who spoke said they were looking for any solution or action that could prevent these companies from installing 5G poles without the town's approval.

Commissioner  Paul Bauer  said the council has considered suing the Federal Communications Commission, but that is costly and could lead down a complicated road.

"We've done some research on that, and it doesn't look like it has positive outcomes," he said.

Resident  Ben Proctor  recommended planting trees along the beach entrances to block wireless infrastructure, and some threw out ideas that Winton called "civil disobedience."

If the town cannot work with DelDOT and control the future of wireless infrastructure at Dewey Beach, maybe it's time for a different strategy, Proctor said.

"What would happen if the town said enough is enough and we took those towers down?" Proctor asked the council.

(c)2021 Dover Post, Del. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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