2015-10-15 / Around Town

Should Tower Be Moved? Tough Cell!

By James Merolla

The battle to end or extend the leases of three cellular phone companies renting space atop a tower on Rogers High School property may have taken another turn after a School Committee member suggested moving the tower to another site.

That site might remain on school grounds, however.

Superintendent Colleen Jermain told the committee at the Oct. 13 meeting that correspondence was received from attorneys Mike Dolan and Joe Hall, representing two of the three cell companies, giving more information about the dimension and importance of cell signals in that area of Newport and urging the schools to renew the leases.

Jermain said she got the sense from at least one committee member that moving the tower to another location might be a new consideration. She sensed the committee needed more time to study the new material and asked for guidance on how to proceed and a timeline to make a decision.

“I would really like some time to read this,” said School Committee Chair Jo Eva Gaines. “The sentiment is that finding another site for the cell tower would be preferable. I am sensing that, just with other conversations with other members of the School Committee and listening. I can’t say I disagree with that sentiment. Another site would probably be a good way to go.”

Gaines suggested a decision on the towers by Jan. 1. This would give the three cell phone companies – T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon – the time to look at other sites that might be of benefit to the schools.

“The [neighbors] will get their answer in December,” said Gaines. “I am going to put this on the agenda.”

School Committee member David Carlin III, a vehement opponent of the towers who wants the committee to discontinue the leases when they expire in 2017, called this latest turn “absurd.”

“Now, we are talking about putting this on another site? This is nonsense,” said Carlin.

“I have made it clear I don’t want it on the school grounds. I would not endorse that,” added committee member Rebecca Bolan.

Gaines said that if a site is found that is amenable to the school administration, “I think teachers should have a say about that.”

One teacher, Christie Cykert, who has taught at Rogers for two decades, said, “I am the closest classroom there [to the tower] for the last 17 years, and I am not worried about it.”

Only a few of the abutting neighbors were in attendance at the meeting. Several dozen have turned out in force for committee meetings since the issue of lease renewal came up. They are united in their opposition to the tower, citing noise, health, safety, aesthetic, home value and other quality-oflife issues.

Abutter Stephen Turcotte, perhaps the most vocal opponent, called the last meeting “a parade of lawyers and a dog and pony show.” He was adamant against any discussion of moving the tower. He wants it down.

“This tower is an everyday issue for us. We have given the community seven reasons to discontinue this lease. Not one, or two, or three. They [the lawyers and companies] don’t really care,” said Turcotte.

Signs against the towers have been placed in yards along a stretch of Ruggles Avenue. Turcotte informed the committee that a neighbor on Ruggles put his house up for sale, no longer willing to live in the shadow of the 70-foot “health hazard.”

The committee cannot vote to take the tower down at present. They must wait months into next year to decide whether to renew the leases of the cell carriers consistent with a one-year notice requirement. Abutters have asked committee members to reveal how they will vote by the end of 2015.

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