Legate Hill residents sue Charlemont, firm over WiFi tower

  • Legate Hill in Charlemont is the site for a proposed communication tower. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Legate Hill Road in Charlemont is the site for a proposed communication tower. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/21/2019 10:56:36 PM

CHARLEMONT — Legate Hill Road residents have sued the town of Charlemont and WiValley to stop a WiFi tower from coming to their street, saying the structure would adversely impact their safety and property values.

Four residents — Laury Ann Wills, Joseph Coppola, Doris J. Scott and Michele Seyler — filed the suit in Massachusetts Land Court, which questions whether Legate Hill Road is a public way as defined by the town and claims the tower may cause damage to homes or roads if it should fall.

The proposed WiFi pole is one of several expected to be built this year as part of a four-town network serving Hawley, Monroe, Florida and Savoy. Charlemont will not receive internet from this network as the town has opted to construct its own system with fiber-optic wires.

As proposed, the tower would be built somewhere on Legate Hill Road, though WiFi company WiValley has not determined the exact location, President Brian Foucher said Tuesday. To build the tower, WiValley is required to hold a public hearing with the Charlemont Selectboard. The pole hearing has not been requested yet, however Hawley Communications Committee Chairman Lark Thwing said it is likely to occur late June or early July.

Attorney Michael Pill of Green Miles Lipton, who is representing the plaintiffs, called the hearing a “formality.”

“It’s like saying we’ve decided you’re guilty, and before we hang you, we’re going to give you a fair trial,” Pill said.

Pill said erecting a WiFi tower near properties on Legate Hill Road will “endanger the lives and property of your own residents.”

In addition to those involved in the suit, numerous other residents have raised concerns about the tower, saying it may impact their health, interfere with Legate Hill’s scenery and depreciate the value of their properties. Resident Jonathan Mirin created a petition to oppose the tower, collecting about 40 signatures from Charlemont townspeople plus about 100 from other areas, he said Monday.

Selectboard meeting

Several residents expressed frustration about the proposed tower at Charlemont’s Selectboard meeting Monday night, accusing the board of failing to intervene. Selectboard members refuted that they haven’t yet received an application to hold a pole hearing from WiValley. Also, they said Legate Hill Road is town-owned land and cellular towers usually have a legal right to be there.

“It’s not that we want to be big ugly ogres,” Selectboard Chair Sarah Reynolds said. “If it was as easy as saying we don’t want it, goodbye … but there are laws that make it so that you have to run the pole hearing.”

Selectboard member Jay Healy said it was “premature” to ask the Selectboard to act before WiValley applies to build a Legate Hill tower.

“I don’t know what the situation with the pole is,” Healy said. “That is something we’ll have to take a look at. We’re not trying to avoid any kind of issues.”

Selectboard member Marguerite Willis expressed some concerns about the cost of the lawsuit to the town.

“Here’s our dilemma if you want transparency,” Willis began. “I sit here, and go — how much money are we going to spend on this? Every dollar we spend this way, most times, I find it unproductive. I don’t see any happy ending to this.”

Residents were skeptical of the Selectboard’s inaction on the matter. Paris Finley called the board’s response a “look-over-this-way type of speech.”

“Sarah, look in your heart,” Paris Finley said addressing the Selectboard chair. “A 60-foot pole with all kinds of equipment in your front yard? Is that what you want to go down in history as doing to the people of Charlemont?”

Paris’s sister Fin Finley expressed concerns about how the 60-foot pole would obscure views of Charlemont.

“It needs to be said out loud that the people of this town trust the board as stewards, you have a stewardship to take care of the town,” Fin Finley said.

Paris Finley’s wife Linda Jones said the Selectboard made it difficult for residents to learn and discuss the Legate Hill proposal as it did not post its agenda online and the item was among the last to be discussed.

Mirin expressed concerns about how added radiation caused by the tower would impact the health of Charlemont residents. He said his wife Godelieve Richard-Mirin suffers from “microwave sickness” caused by electromagnetic fields. According to a physician’s note issued by Dr. V. von Toenges in 2012, Richard-Mirin suffers from “a severe hypersensitivity to electromagnetic fields,” caused by exposure to wireless computer networks, electromagnetic fields and “other modern communication instruments.” Symptoms of Richard-Mirin’s illness according to the note include intolerance to some foods, plus “dizziness, a feeling of irritation, muscular spasms, tingling in her hands and pressure in the head. Also sleep is impaired.” The note also states that hypersensitivity has “nothing to do with other psychosomatic problems.”

‘Financial choice’

WiValley President Foucher said the company intends to go ahead with plans to build a WiFi tower on Legate Hill Road as this location is the most cost-efficient option. While other towns (including Charlemont) are taking out millions of dollars in loans to build new Broadband systems over the next few years, Hawley, Monroe, Florida and Savoy are only using funds from a state grant worth $2.3 million, taking no money from the towns.

Foucher said he believes bringing WiFi to unserved towns will only benefit the area. He said the company have considered “lots of alternatives,” and “the budget that these towns have” limits options to one, on Legate Hill Road.

“Technically, there are no other alternatives,” Foucher said. “A financial choice is a real choice.”

He said WiValley is not a corporation like AT&T or Verizon, and wants to be “supportive to the community.”

“We’re a company that is providing communications and new opportunities to these towns,” Foucher said. We’re preventing homes from eroding in their value.”

Hawley Communications Committee Chair Thwing echoed Foucher’s sentiments, saying the tower had “the right to be there” according to federal law. Building a structure elsewhere would cost “in the vicinity” of $100,000 to $200,000.

Thwing disagreed with the various concerns raised by some residents. He said cellular towers do not have adverse health impacts given there are already many structures in the area and across the country. Further, Thwing said, bringing high-speed Internet to the area would only improve property values.

“We believe we have every right to be there. This is a public communications service,” Thwing said.

Reach Grace Bird at gbird@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.


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