2017-08-17 / Opinion

EDITORIAL

Classic Case of NIMBY?

Removal of the cell towers at Rogers High School and plans to replace existing antennas at St. Augustin’s Church in the Fifth Ward has generated much controversy, confusion and debate. While the jury is out on the possible health ramifications of cell towers, most likely everyone is in agreement that the metal-sprouting structures are unsightly. Neighbors have even made a case that the apparatus is a detriment to property values. So, is this a classic case of NIMBY (not in my backyard)?

The Newport School Committee made a decision earlier this year not to renew the leases of wireless providers who had equipment on the tower. Upon expiration of their respective leases, the companies have a fixed amount of time to remove their equipment. None of the companies has gone past the date for removal, and in fact, some leases have yet to reach their termination date. We expect that the high-profile national companies will do everything in their power to keep their equipment in place and are not inclined to remove hardware early.

In reality, removal of the towers presents legitimate concerns about replacing a necessary service that is as much an issue of public safety as it is a “convenience.” Herein lies even more confusion. Does the city become involved because the cell tower removal is a public safety concern? That debate has also led to anxiety.

Opposition to the new antennas at St. Augustin’s is an issue that the Zoning Board of Review will decide later this month. If the building permit that was issued is reversed, an appeal to the courts could follow. Most people who pass the church probably don’t see or know of the existing equipment in place. Likewise, we don’t know if the new equipment will be larger or more conspicuous.

Recognizing the concerns on both sides, we think that a public forum to discuss this issue should be considered. What are the potential disruptions, if any, in 911 and other emergency communications? What are the risks of cellular coverage being compromised? Would household access to the internet in any way be affected?

As we become more reliant on wireless communication, we need to be cognizant of how things work. It is an interesting and necessary construction to have. A public discussion beyond the Fifth Ward is beneficial for all, and perhaps long overdue.

So, where do you think a new cell tower should go? What is the least obtrusive location? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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