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Scituate selectmen block cell phone tower near Wompatuck school

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  March 15, 2013 06:17 PM

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Scituate officials, at the urging of residents, stalled a proposal to place a cell phone tower next to an elementary school.

A group of mothers and neighbors came out to last Tuesday's selectmen's meeting to protest the proposal, which would install an AT&T cell phone tower on the southeast corner of Wompatuck Elementary School.

The project was described as a “tough, sensitive issue,” for the town, Selectman Tony Vegnani said, and one that almost came to Town Meeting two years ago. However, the article was taken off last minute.

AT&T came back with the proposition to build a tower in the area, which has limited reception.

According to Vegnani, in accordance with federal law, AT&T has the authority to put up a cell phone tower where it doesn't have coverage. The cell phone company had settled on two potential sites, one next to the school on town land, and another a half-a-mile away on private property

“It’s going to go in that area anyway. We should at least look at taking the money for ourselves rather than having it go down the street,” Vegnani said.

The lease of town land needed for the project would generate an estimated $40,000 a year in revenue, and would be required to increase three percent annually.

Despite the promise of added revenue, town officials did voice hesitation over potential health impacts of putting a cell phone tower so close to kids. Several selectmen said it would be best to put it before the town for a vote.

“Put it to Town Meeting. If people are against it, they have an opportunity to make sure it doesn’t get passed,” Selectman John Danehey said.

Yet the potential for the article to pass was too risky for many parents, who spoke strongly against the project Tuesday.

“It’s a to-be carcinogen,” said Wendy Crone, who lives on Gannett Road. “We build there, we expose our children…it’s the same to exposing our children to lead.”

Crone urged selectmen to let the tower go on private property, as the half-a-mile distance would be better than allowing the technology practically on top of the school.

A better alternative would be to fight the construction of the cell tower entirely, said Crone, who said she had spoken to attorneys who would fight the case pro bono.

Robin Glazier, who lives on Persimmon Drive, expressed fears of the tower catching fire and falling on the school, referring to a similar cell phone tower fire in Wellseley.

“There are safety concerns other than the health,” Glazier said.

Selectmen told parents that wherever the tower was to go, the construction would have to go through the Zoning Board process. Safety concerns related to construction and health concerts regarding usage would all be considered, Danehey said.

“If it’s a health and safety issue, this board is 100 percent behind [you],” Danehey said. “But one of the problems is zoning. They don’t just get the chance to build, they go through a number of meetings. These issues you raise are vetted out through research, experts…we try to make decisions [in] the best interests of the town.”

In the end, however, Selectman Shawn Harris chose not to send the article to Town Meeting, creating a 2-to-2 vote on the proposal.

A tie is not a passing vote, and so the warrant failed.

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