2015-09-10 / Front Page

Schools Set Meeting on Cell Tower

Workshop on Sept. 22 to Air Community Concerns
By James Merolla

Despite vehement opposition from neighbors and three out of seven members, the Newport School Committee will meet with representatives from three cellular communications giants to discuss community concerns at an informational workshop set for Tuesday, Sept. 22.

Neighbors along Ruggles Avenue assembled again at the committee’s meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 8, backing a motion proposed by member David Carlin II that would “send a message” to AT&T Singular, Verizon and T-Mobile, that the committee would not be renewing the cellular companies' leases for rental space on a tower on the grounds of Rogers High School.

But Carlin’s motion, supported by committee members Robert J. Leary and Rebecca Bolan, was defeated when a four-member majority – Chair Jo Eva Gaines, Vice Chair David Hanos, Sandra Flowers and Kathleen Silvia – voted against it. They want the three vendors to have the chance to answer neighbor, school and legal concerns about noise, radiation, and expansion.

Superintendent Colleen Jermain said the companies were “very willing” to hear neighbors “voice their concerns” and to be open to diminishing noise, adjusting aesthetics or allaying fears about unhealthy emissions.

At a committee meeting on Aug. 11, residents were apoplectic about the tower’s size, appearance, noise and potential health risks to children from radiation, even mentioning that the “thing” might fall down in neighbor Mary Nolan’s yard.

That night, those residents asked for a meeting with the companies who have leases for space on the tower through 2017. By Tuesday, however, they had decided that such a meeting was unwarranted.

Leslie Foster, who lives at 62 Ruggles Ave., said she wasn’t interested in anything the phone companies’ attorneys or “experts” might say. “Ask each one of yourselves, if you lived where Mary Nolan lived, would that cell tower be there? I don’t think any one of you would say ‘Yes.’ That’s the bottom line. Make a decision based on being a good neighbor, your heart, and not your pocketbook,” implored Foster.

In making the defeated motion to inform the three cell giants that the committee would not renew leases, Carlin said, “I’m fed up with it, frankly. I thank the neighbors for their advocacy, and I move to terminate the contracts, based on lease expiration,” said Carlin.

Hanos, who is also a firefighter whose station is even closer and higher to the tower in question than any of the neighbors, said he wanted to talk to the companies, as he has been unable to get an “independent study to tell me what [radiation] is coming off that tower. I would much rather meet with the cell companies and [have them] put their money where their mouth is.”

“I wanted to hear all sides, not just both sides,” said Sandra Flowers, explaining why she voted against Carlin’s motion. “I want to hear from disinterested third parties [not just company representatives]. I want to see 2015 research, something up-to-date and accurate. I can’t say how I am going to vote until I hear the whole thing. We don’t want to put children or anyone into any particular danger. We have to proceed ethically, morally, economically, and so forth.”

Carlin said he wanted to send a message by this vote in 2015, even though the leases don’t expire until 2017 and an entirely new School Committee may be in place after the November 2016 election.

“A resolution is only as good as the present School Committee in the seats,” countered Robert Leary, while supporting Carlin.

Neil Galvin, the School Committee’s legal counsel, advised the committee not to cancel the planned workshop, as it could be interpreted as gesture of “bad faith.”

“It doesn’t mean you can’t make such a decision [not to renew leases] after you conduct the workshop. You do have time to make that decision,” said Galvin.

He suggested that such a meeting would give the Newport School Committee a stronger hand, should they pass Carlin’s resolution. Jermain added that the company has said that electromagnetic radiation is not a concern.

Dean Chase, who also lives on Ruggles Avenue and who vehemently opposes the the tower, was more open-minded. He said that even though, no one will be surprised by what the cell companies say, he is willing to hear them say it on Sept. 22.

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