Dozens of Northampton homeowners concerned about the installation of distributed antenna system towers in their neighborhoods and on their properties crowded a meeting held at the Amsterdam Avenue home of Pat Sexton Sunday evening to meet with local politicians and to try to figure out what to do next to stop the installation of the towers.
The meeting started out in the basement of Sexton’s modest home and then was forced out onto her front lawn due to the larger-than-expected turnout.
Once outside, State Representative Scott Petri said he was in contact with an attorney from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. The lawyer told Petri that the owner of the poles, American Tower Corporation, had the right under federal law to install the poles due to a FCC ruling from the 1990s and it would be hard to win a case against ATC as they are properly licensed and are complying with-in the bounds of the FCC ruling.
The FCC ruling from 1996 “prohibits any action that would ban altogether the construction, modification or placement of these kinds (cellular, wide-area SMR and broadband PCS) of facilities in a particular area.”
Resident Ed Cotton wondered out loud if this meant the issue was “settled” and there was nothing else that could be done to stop the poles.
“England said it was settled in 1776,” resident Ed Bendzlowicz fired back. He was referring to the year America - the underdog - declared its independence from England during the Revolutionary War.
Residents voiced their dismay over the fact that many of them did not find out that the nearly 60 poles outfitted nodes used for mobile communication devices would be installed in their yards and along their streets until they started finding white circles on their lawns, paper hangers on their doors, and vague letters stating some facts about the project in their mailboxes about a week before installation began.
Many felt the township let them down by failing to inform them so they could have been involved in the fight to stop ATC.
“We screwed up,” Northampton Board of Supervisors Chairman Frank Rothermel admitted to the crowd. He was referring to the fact that the community was not made more aware of the situation sooner and that the township, which sued ATC over the issue and lost, had not done more to try to stop the company from getting permission to install the poles.
“We want this stopped,” yelled one woman.
Rothermel said the township could not get ATC to take a pole down once it is up. However, he wanted see what could be done to prevent this in the future and if he could help the people who got “screwed.”
A man across the crowd yell that he wanted an injunction filed to try to stop the current installation of the towers. His peers in the audience clapped in agreeance.
Later in the meeting, several residents agreed to contact lawyer Stephen Harris to see if they could make a case to stop the installation of the poles on their properties and in their neighborhoods.
Almost all those in attendance agreed the township they pay taxes to and which they feel did not try hard enough to stop the poles from being installed should foot the legal fees they incur. Rothermel agreed to look into it.
Ed Bendzlowicz voiced his opinion that if the residents had to cover the cost of a lawyer, he would make it his job to make sure every member of the current board of supervisors were voted out of office come the next election cycle.
Some of the most upset residents live in communities that have all underground utilities and the new poles will be an eyesore and lower their property values.
As the meeting continued and the sun began to disappear for the evening, several residents offered suggestions of an occupy type protest in hopes of causing delays in putting up the poles.
“Make them lock us up. Let’s blow this up,” said one retiree who offered to block installation crews in hopes of getting more media attention put on the issue.
Sunday’s meeting, which was tense at times, was organized late last week by residents through talking to neighbors and social media, organizers said.
Rothermel said the board is organizing a special meeting that will be held early next week to discuss the issue and what happens next.