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New 5G Poles Cause Resident Uproar in Harrisburg, Pa.

The rollout of 5G antennas, commonly known as small wireless facilities, have city residents pushing back against plans to install even more of the devices. Some residents say they weren’t notified by the city.

5G Pole in front of Harrisburg, Penn., residenti
A Verizon 5G cell tower has been installed in front of homes on the 1400 block of North Front Street in Harrisburg. May 21, 2021.
Dan Gleiter/PennLive
(TNS) — Marc Kurowski was working from home several weeks ago when he overheard some noise from the front area of his home on Front Street in Harrisburg.

He rushed to his front window and saw construction workers digging where a street light pole once stood.

This was the moment he learned that a new 5G cell pole by Verizon was to be erected directly in front of his home.

“I went to the window and saw that they were digging in the little garden in front of my front porch and that was the first I heard about it,” Kurowski said. “No notification, no letter, no correspondence...nothing prior to them showing up and digging.”

Kurowski has lived in his home at in the 1400 block of North Front Street for about five years. He says he has invested a significant amount of money on improvements, spending two years renovating the former duplex into a single-family home.

Now a fat antenna on a 5G cell pole has been planted directly in front of his home, smack dab in the middle of his view of the river, as his windows directly face the Susquehanna River.

“It completely destroys the view,” said Kurowksi. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have a balcony but I look at this giant 55 gallon drum-looking cell tower right off the front of my property, it’s maybe 10 feet from my front porch.”

The device is officially known as “small wireless facility” and the one in front of Kurowski’s home is among about 50 that have been erected in the city, mostly downtown, all without any consultation with local homeowners. There are 30 more planned that will be installed soon in other areas later this year, including midtown and uptown.

Even more are planned for next year for a total of 120 5G installations across the city. And that’s just from Verizon. If another carrier wanted to upgrade their network, they would be adding even more devices across the city.

The conundrum has prompted some municipalities across the country to pass local legislation limiting the density of such equipment, but as it stands, Harrisburg has no such existing or pending legislation.

Under federal rules adopted in 2018, utilities are allowed to bypass most local regulations to help streamline infrastructure projects and put their equipment where they need. Some bills have been introduced at the state level that would give those companies even more rights over local laws.

The state has a process to protect historical sites with reviews by the State Historic Preservation Office for environmental impacts. That process already halted plans for some 5G installations in Bellevue Park because the installations were considered larger than the existing infrastructure, said City Engineer Wayne Martin.

Beyond that state review, the local municipalities can only redirect an installation if it restricts sidewalk access, encroaches on an accessible pedestrian route or triggers any ADA upgrades, said Martin.

Verizon entered into a lease agreement with the city of Harrisburg to replace existing streetlights with new ones that include their 5G antennas, so the city gets new streetlights and some money out of the deal, but they have little say into where they are placed.

The federally-allowed streamlining means residents across the country where 5G is being implemented are finding themselves in the same situation as Kurowski. The poles, and additional 5G service, have been added in 31 different states, including Ohio, where residents have been equally upset by some locations.

The poles popped up in many historic areas in Columbus, Ohio starting last year, just before Christmas, prompting concerns from the Historic Preservation Office, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

In Columbus, however, the communications companies placed ads with the newspaper identifying locations in advance, giving residents the option to choose wood or metal, or try to move a pole so it doesn’t block the entrance to buildings.

Residents in Harrisburg, however, were not given the same opportunity. Martin said it would be logistically impossible with more than 100 sites possibly impacting multiple neighbors when three different companies are involved with the site selection with varying needs and obstacles: Verizon Landline, Verizon wireless and PPL.

The new 5G technology will boost cellphone speeds and bandwidth. But it requires transmitters to be placed closer together — every few hundred feet — than they are in 3G or 4G networks. That’s because 5G’s high frequency waves don’t travel as far as the older frequencies’ signals.

Kurowski reached out to the city engineer after the sudden installation 10 feet from his front porch, and was forwarded to Verizon. Kurowski has spoken to the company with the hope to figure out a compromise for possibly moving the cell pole but the company has been adamant against making any changes.

“Frankly, at this point they have expressed, absolutely no interest in any kind of discussion to move the pole. They said ‘it’s there, sorry, you’re just gonna have to deal with it,’” Kurowski said.

Kuroski said even the slightest communication before installation could have made the situation tolerable by simply putting it at the corner of his home instead of directly in front of it.

“If they would have approached me ahead of time, that’s what I would have asked them, we wouldn’t be in this position,” Kurowski said. “They have been very steadfast at saying ‘no, it’s not moving.’ I’m going to keep pushing, but at this point if it had to be on a corner, I can live with it on a corner.”

Martin said it is the city’s job to ensure the color and style of the new poles match surrounding light fixtures, that the proper light is used, and that city sidewalk restoration standards are followed. But that’s about it.

There were no issues with the location at Kurowski’s home that would allow a change, Martin said, and shifting the equipment isn’t possible because the new equipment ties into the previous streetlight, which was located in the middle island at Kurowski’s home.

Moving streetlights can’t be taken lightly either, Martin said, because they are placed to provide proper continuous illumination to roads and sidewalks, so moving even one street light could leave dangerous dark gaps.

Kurowski vented his frustrations on Facebook and heard from others who found the poles revolting.

The director of the Susquehanna Art Museum, located 1401 N 3rd Street, also was surprised by a 5G small wireless facility being built in front of their location.

Alica Anne Schwab, Executive Director of the Museum said one day they saw some guys digging and it prompted confusion from many of the workers at the museum because they had no prior knowledge of any planned construction.

“Normally, when some construction is going to happen. It’s just a courtesy that someone who’s going to do that construction or someone who’s responsible, would let you know or let business owners know,” Schwab said.

Having some sort of warning would have helped them prepare better for visitors on the museum, she said.

“They literally blocked our front door for several days while doing the installation, so we were open. I mean, it’s not as though we had a major event planned but it would have been nice to know so that we could have posted something on our website, let people know that if they were planning a visit that day wasn’t going to work so well,” said Anne.

Schwab’s biggest concern is that the 5G pole is an ‘eye sore’ to the building, only placed five feet in front of the museum. According to Schwab, the building will turn 100-years-old in two years causing a huge issue with the people involved in the city’s historic preservation, feeling this cell pole would be destroying a historic landmark in the area.

“So it’s a historic structure and you’re putting this pole, kind of blocking the view as well as it being right in front of the entrance,” she said.

The museum feels a little helpless in the whole thing, Schwab said.

“Nobody told us, nobody asked us...nobody claims responsibility,” she said.

Kevin Dolphin, a founder of the Harrisburg non-profit Breaking the Chainz, heard from colleagues after a 5G cell pole was built in front of their office in the Uptown area.

“It’s very concerning because it’s popping up all over, and a lot of people are concerned about it,” Dolphin said.

Dolphin also felt mislead by construction workers who installed the pole about two to three months ago.

“When they started doing it, I said, ‘Yo, what are you guys putting up? They said we’re replacing it with a new light,’” Dolphin said. “So they told me that that it was going to be a light or light tower. Next thing we know, it’s a 5G tower right out there.”

Dolphin has since reached out to Mayor Eric Papenfuse to address the issue but a representative of the office explained they have no control over the locations.

Verizon declined to answer or respond to any questions from PennLive, including who decides the locations of the poles and why they didn’t contact property owners prior to installation, and future plans in the city.

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