This hearing is held pursuant to the provisions of title 16 in the Connecticut General Statutes and of the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act upon an application from Florida Tower Partners, LLC, dba North Atlantic Towers, for certificate of environmental compatibility and public need for the construction, operation and maintenance of a telecommunications facility, one of two locations in 62-64 Codfish Hill Road in Bethel, Connecticut. This application was received by the Council on March 19, 2015.
Report and Photography by Paula Antolini
June 5, 2015 3:00PM EDT
(Click on photos to view larger.)
Powerful Words from Bethel Residents at the Connecticut Siting Council Meeting About the Controversial Codfish Hill Cell Tower
Respectfully defiant, is how the June 2, 2015 Connecticut Siting Council (CSC) meeting can be described, regarding the proposed Codfish Hill Cell Tower public comments and attendees.
Connecticut Siting Council Chairman Robert Stein stated, “This hearing is held pursuant to the provisions of title 16 in the Connecticut General Statutes and of the uniform administrative procedure act upon an application from Florida Tower Partners, LLC, dba North Atlantic Towers, for certificate of environmental compatibility and public need for the construction, operation and maintenance of a telecommunications facility, one of two locations in 62-64 Codfish Hill Road in Bethel, Connecticut. This application was received by the Council on March 19, 2015.”
He also stated, “This application is also governed by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which is administered by the Federal Communications Commission. This act prohibits council from considering the health effects of radio frequency on human health and wildlife, to the extent that emissions from towers are within the Federal approved safe limit standards, which standard is also followed by the State Department of Public Health.”
So basically the public could not ask questions or talk about health effects either.
In a packed-to-overflowing-capacity Clifford J. Hurgin Municipal Center room of approximately 200 Bethel residents, the majority shouted, “NO!” to the Council, in unison, at numerous intervals, as people gave comment to the Council. With arms stretched high above their heads, they also held signs up as others gave comment to Council at the microphone, signs that read “NO” in bold black lettering, visually making a sea of silent “NO” statements from residents. At other times, they were unable to refrain from cheering when they agreed with statements, which was not permitted by the CSC.
Council Chairman Robert Stein warned, “I would encourage you to refrain from manifestations. You can wave your signs all you want but lengthy applause is just going to prolong the hearing and may… not enable us to hear everybody, so I would really encourage you to obviously be courteous just in case there happens to be someone who wants to speak that doesn’t represent your views.”
(Comments below are in order of appearance at the meeting.)
The first speaker was 15-year Bethel resident Vince DiGrandi, who began by “apologizing ahead of time” because he did not know there was a three-minute time frame for speaking, and he also said, “I’m always a tad verbose but I’ll talk pretty fast.” He ended up speaking for approximately 17 minutes.
DiGrandi said, “First let me take this moment to thank the great people of Bethel who have turned out here tonight in droves to make a statement. Amongst us are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, entire families, and most of all, my neighbors who have galvanized for one cause, with one mission.”
He then raised his arm high to motion to the audience, looked at them and said, “For the record, all those opposed to the cell phone tower just please hold up your sign.” The soft sound of papers rustling was all that could be heard in the room, as a sea of paper signs were raised. “Let the record show that, as far as I can tell, that’s the entire audience,” DiGrandi said.
DiGrandi told the CT Siting Council that their job is difficult, as they “must balance the corporate desires vs. the local neighborhood desires.” He said he questioned the need for a cell tower in his neighborhood because “cell service is excellent.” He said he attended the initial meeting with AT&T and North Atlantic Towers in Dec. 2013, and only after more research he discovered that “there was more to the proposal than first stated.” He continued, “I come to find out that the Codfish Hill site is an alternative to the Dodgingtown tower whose lessee backed out due to the proximity to a school.”
“An aggressive campaign on behalf of a Florida-based company, North Atlantic Towers, a tower speculator, lead to the 62-64 Codfish Hill Road after many, many reviews by other neighbors in the area,” DiGrandi said. “There is only one other state in the entire nation, that has a Siting council,” he said, “which has, in effect, removed local control of this process.” He further indicated, “Citizens are not even allowed to argue based on health-related issues, as a 20-year-old 1996 Federal Telecommunications Act saw to that…Multi-billion-dollar corporation desires are once again being put ahead of citizen needs.”
“AT&T is a company with 1.34 billion dollars in revenue, last year alone. It would make it approximately the 80th-largest-country in the world by revenue,” DiGrandi said, “They must have a need for this tower because cell towers do not belong in residential neighborhoods.” Their “need” is based on their own interpretation of coverage, he said. He requested that the “dropped-call” records to be publicized, if that is one of their stated reasons for cell tower need. “Cell towers do not belong in residential neighborhoods,” DiGrandi repeated. “AT&T’s need to provide video streaming apparently trumps my need and the need of my neighbors not to have a 170-foot monstrosity to destroy the neighborhood we call home.”
As the Council Chairman Stein cut in, when DiGrandi had far exceeded the time limit, he said, “Excuse me are you finished?” DiGrandi replied, “Almost finished, yes.” And as DiGrandi momentarily parted from the written script he had been reading from, he said, “I would hope that that 15 years in this town, bringing up a family, would allow me a little bit more time than three minutes.”
DiGrandi then continued reading, and said realtors were claiming that the “no cell phone tower” signs were scaring people away from the open houses, and that cell towers affect property values negatively.
DiGrandi read an email message from a prospective home buyer who had come across the no-cell-tower website when investigating a property for sale at 25 Codfish Hill. It read in part, “Do not believe cell towers do not affect property values. We will not even be considering purchasing the property due to the proposed cell tower.” The email indicated the individual would be out of town for the meeting, but wished that the email be included in the submissions. The letter continued, “Houses will sell for less and will be on the market longer. You are impacting lives, my family’s lives, my life and the lives of my neighbors. I am sure creative thinkers could figure out a much better way to develop revenue for 49 acres in this town.”
Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker‘s comments were in opposition to the cell tower. Speaking to the Siting Council he said, “I’m sure you noticed that the area in question is a beautiful, bucolic area. I mention this because it is one of the last wide-open spaces, not only in our town, but it’s the type of area that’s disappearing from Western Connecticut in general, as the population increases and development proceeds forward.”
“So you can see that there’s a great deal of passion in the room tonight, on behalf of people who wish to preserve that property as it is. It is a link to Bethel’s farming past, it is a reason that the people who gathered here today, purchased homes and purchased property in that area. And for that reason I stand before you this evening to speak on their behalf, and I respectfully request that the commission deny the applicant’s request,” Knickerbocker said. A standing ovation of lengthy applause ensued from the audience, which also included whistling and cheering.
Knickerbocker acknowledged receiving a letter from the Siting Council in March, inviting him to propose alternative locations, and although Knickerbocker said he “took that charge very seriously” and “gave that a great deal of thought,” he said, “I ultimately rejected proposing alternate locations because in my view that just moved the problem from one location to another.” More applause and cheers from the audience. “And from your perspective it would simply replace this room full of people with a different room full of people and maybe a different Mayor or different First Selectman,” Knickerbocker said.
“I’m aware right now there are different technologies emerging, that in a very short time could make cell towers, traditional cell towers, obsolete,” Knickerbocker said. He received more shouts of “yes” from the audience, and more applause. He continued, “So for that reason, again I respectfully request that the application be denied and to explore those technologies in the future.” More loud cheers and applause.
Bethel Selectman Paul Szatkowski said, as he turned to look at the audience, “I’m completely in agreement with this group right here. Let me tell you the reason I came here tonight. Government is nothing but of the people, for the people, by the people, and I look around here tonight and I see the message very well,” said Szatkowski. Someone in the crowd then shouted out “What’s the message?” to which the crowd shouted, “NO!” loudly.
Szatkowski continued, “However, let me tell you, living up on Winthrop Road, we have a cell tower, and what happened is we all got together and said no too, and I would like this Siting Council to consider what these people are requesting. Our request is denied, but you know what? We are a people here. We are living in our town. We should decide what government should be and what government should impose upon us. We don’t want it. I’d like you to seriously consider, look at this crowd, see what they are saying. They’re saying no.” The crowd again shouted out “NO!” and raised their NO signs up high. “There are other technologies, as Matt had said earlier. Let’s not rush into this and spoil the futures of Connecticut especially when we have such a pristine area,” Szatkowski said.
Mark Vago. PhD, gave comment next, a professor of chemical engineering and physical chemistry at the University of New Haven for 25 years, and an 11 1/2 year resident of Codfish Hill Road, two doors down from the proposed cell tower site. He has two 6-year-old sons and his wife Sheri, and said he moved here to raise his family and “planned on staying here a while.”
“Obviously being a technically literate person,” Vago said, “I have some serious concerns about having a cell tower located 1300 feet if it’s site number 2, and about 1650 feet I guess, or so, back from my house, if it’s site number 1.”
Vago was prepared to ask the “gentleman that gave the technical presentation” he said, and he had many questions but quickly learned it was not allowed, as Council Chairman Stein informed him, so Vago said, “I did some calculations based on Exhibit K. Are you familiar with Exhibit K?” Vago said, “I used the formula from 1997.”
Vago continued, “FCC Bulletin, OEC 65….I did the worst case calculations of course for the two sites to my house, and I got this very perplexing miniscule number for the power flux.” He said, “What I’m seeing here, if I go out with a meter, basically what I’m going to measure after this tower is constructed and operated, is what I measure this morning in my yard, and I’m in fact going to take measurements, and I’m going to make sure that if anything happens here…..that I don’t believe, I’ve read a lot in scientific literature and other studies and it seems like a lot of towers are not in compliance. They’re over the limit, the FCC limit, which is kind of strange because it has a limit, 22 to one milliwatt per centimeter square.” (Editor note, Milliwatt: A unit of power equal to one thousandth (10-3) of a watt.) “So what is it? Point two or is it one?”
Vago continued, “There is no calculation in the application of the specific absorption rate that one might have and I find that quite perplexing. I just think, 1997 bulletin, I think we need to update that to 2015.”
Tom Ajello, leading the “Stop the Codfish Cell Tower” cause, who has a wife and three small children, said, “We moved out of Bridgeport to find ourselves a life in the country.” He talked about the virtues of Bethel and how like-minded people are and said “I reached out for some comments and I got a few.” He then flung a tube of rolled paper out onto the floor where it unrolled, but still had much more to be shown, as it had 20 feet of 2000 names and comments on it, he said. Ajello said the names were sending a message about just how much people love the town and don’t want it to change. “I would offer this to you and ask that you read some of them,” Ajello said to the CT Siting Council.
“Tonight, like the 2,000 people who commented on the document in from of you, and the nearly 1,000 people who have liked our Facebook page and signed the petition. Like the 26,000 people, 26,000 THOUSAND people, who have ‘liked,’ commented, shared, and engaged in some small way, our story, Bethel’s story, the story of this tiny small town, who loves each other and wants to keep it that way. Like the 360 residents who took signs and put them in their yards and brought those signs here tonight. I too have a message, and that message is, that there should be no cell towers in family neighborhoods, Bethel or otherwise.” Loud applause greeted this statement.
As the beeps sounded for the end of his speaking time, Ajello said, “Bear with me because it’s going to go longer.” As Ajello was criticizing the facts people receive about the cell towers from companies, he said, “These positive, forward looking moments are not true. In fact, as I looked on this first meeting, and people were listening, I was shocked. A room-full of people…uneducated about the facts, and I know that you guys only want to talk about facts. And they were being fed these silver linings from AT&T reps and I was furious. And I looked at a woman by the name of Julie Kohler, and I asked her directly to her face, if she had kids, and would she live under a cell tower herself. The silence was deafening. The answer wasn’t yes. You know who said yes? The AT&T guy. Shocker.”
“Truth be told,” said Ajello, “since that night almost two years ago, I have yet to hear a positive comment about about this tower. These people have yet to hear a positive comment about this tower. Oh except, the property owner is going to make $60,000 a year, or Redding and Newtown might get better service or truth be told, some people on one side of Codfish Hill might get less dropped calls. That’s right. There’s about five houses, I’ve been in a couple of them.”
Ajello said, “We’ve come a long way since two years ago.…We’ve learned about the difference between capacity and coverage. You know what another word for capacity is? Gluttony. The carriers get band width, more simultaneous streams of video, fantastic. A capacity argument is not an argument to threaten 100 plus families directly, if not thousands or hundreds of children.”
Right after Ajello said, “So let’s talk about risk,” the Council Chairman said to Ajello, “Can you wrap it up?” to which Ajello quickly replied, “I cannot.” A gentleman in the audience offered to give Ajello his three minutes, and Ajello said, “Thanks Steve.” Ajello continued, and commented “I think that’s pretty rude to lose the microphone, please turn it back on.” It was turned back on. Ajello spoke for about 15 minutes total.
Ajello said, “With time and usage come research. At this point in time the research does not come with long term data. Long term data leaves us with only one thing. Risk….tower antennas are most dangerous in direct line of sight, and the radiation therein, reduces at distance exponentially. These are the fact that we know today. But without any more study, we are left with risk. And until then, until we know just how dangerous this is to my wife and my three children, in our bedroom, 1,000 feet and the crow flies, from the tower, we don’t know. Or Mark and Gillean several feet from it, we don’t know. Or Mary Nordman with a disgraceful number of feet from the tower, we don’t know. We don’t know what risk they’re taking.”
“I want to close with a question. If we don’t know, when do we stand up and say no? When do YOU join us and stand up and help us say no? When do you look a these applications near all of these residences and families and say, there must be a better place? And in fact there is. And AT&T with your billions of dollars, you go find it.”
There was much more that Ajello and other residents said, check back shortly to view my video, to come.
83-year-old Geraldine Mills, wife of the late former First Selectman of Bethel, Edward J. Mills, spoke about a salamander who is an endangered species, and said, in part, “We have an endangered species on Codfish Hill and surrounding area that the EMF fields (electromagnetic fields) will affect, and that species is called human.” Applause.
Mills said, “The town of Bethel with its P&Z commission (Planning & Zoning Commission) allows buildings to the height of 35 feet. You are being requested to put a tower 150 to 170 feet. That’s a lot of stories. P&Z would never approve it….AT&T and American Towers are not interested in the health, safety and welfare of the people of Bethel. This is sheer greed and monetary gain for George Saurus and his cell towers. If you want cell towers I will give you a solution to your problem. Put them on the existing highways and stick phoney limbs on them and they can look like trees and then Governor Malloy can collect the taxes from AT&T and other companies, and it will help save our infrastructure and give us money to do that.” Applause.
Mary Susan Weinkauf said, “I have a deep concern for the children in the Codfish Hill area but also all the children at St. Mary’s and the children who attend school in the Bethel Public School district, which is a very short distance from where this tower will be.
Thirty-three year Bethel resident Tim Beeble spoke about land development and tax assessments on large acreage. He said, “In recent months we’ve had applications for affordable housing on large acreage and Hickok, and eventually the town defensively purchased 60 acres for $675,000 to protect views and the neighborhood. And there’s ongoing complaints about the development of 26 units on Grand Street. When people drive around town thinking ‘we’ve got this beautiful open space’ but the reality is, for the most part, it is privately owned land that just hasn’t been developed yet.”
Beeble said, “Right now property taxes are pressuring owners to develop land. Owners can’t afford to pay it. Take a look at the owner of 62-64 Codfish. I looked it up and she’s paying $18,000 a year in property taxes. $14,000 of that is just for the land. Private owners just can’t afford to keep land undeveloped, it’s just very expensive.
“So we all need to understand that if the cell tower doesn’t go up, then the property owner will be pressured to do other things, sub-divide, do whatever. And if the town is against the cell tower, will the town also be against sub-division? You can’t have it both ways. Charge $18,000 a year in property taxes and then not let a developer or owner develop their property or use it…I’m hoping if this does go down that the town won’t fight the owner doing something else, to be able to afford to keep it. Or maybe the town can figure out another way to ease up the pressure on tax assessments on large acreage.”
Ken Parsons said, “I’ve lived on the hill for half a century now. It’s never occurred to me that we would have any kind of a monstrosity such as this going up there. But what’s really alarming is, one home owner is holding this entire part of town hostage and you hold them in the palm of your hands, tell us what we can do.” Applause. Parsons continued, “I mean you’ve taken our rights completely away. We don’t have a say other than our voice and our noice right here. We really want this tower gone. Completely gone. That’s all I got to say.” Loud applause.
NOTE: More to come, more testimony and a VIDEO, check back.