My Turn: More microwave radiation for Heath and Ashfield?

Published: 12/28/2020 3:23:23 PM

A New Hampshire company called Wi-Valley would like to install a 60-foot microwave tower on a crossroads in Heath — a town that already voted to install a safe, future-proof, town-owned fiber-optic network. The tower would be to serve 18 homes in Hawley which appear not to have been included in Hawley's original "fixed wireless" build out.

I was living on Legate Hill in Charlemont when Wi-Valley wanted to install a similar tower on Legate Hill, again well after the initial funding and plan for Hawley was in motion.

Why count on a neighboring town like Charlemont or Heath approving a microwave tower in their right of way, i.e., in someone's front yard? It seems you'd want to get those approvals before spending taxpayer money granted through the Mass Broadband Institute to build your network.

Well, it appears one way to eliminate roadblocks is to submit an application to the town's Selectboard for a "pole hearing", i.e., saying we'd like to put up a 60-foot pole under the bylaw that governs the installation of electric poles.

Yes, there is microwave radiation being beamed at the "pole" from miles away and injuring, if you run with the independent, non-industry funded research on the subject, pollinators, birds, or the unfortunate people who happen to live near the "pole", for example Alena Charow's family. Ms. Charow's letter to the board cites hundreds of studies dating back to the ’70s showing damage to human health and the environment with exposures below the FCC limits. She also includes studies that project a loss in nearby home values of up to 20%.

Strangely, treating their microwave tower application as a utility pole application (which is not subject to telecom by-laws) was happening in Charlemont until residents filed a lawsuit. When I requested, resident Laury Wills summed up her experience:

"The FHMS Four Towns Broadband Committee attempted to force property owners on Legate Hill Road to subsidize the build out of their network by working directly with the town of Charlemont to approve a microwave tower under the guise of a utility pole. The town’s own attorney said there was no legal precedent for this but the FHMS committee pursued it as their least cost option. The first we heard about the tower was when someone forwarded us a map with a big red X outside our front door where the tower was going to be constructed. The FHMS committee pursued this location using state law as a cudgel despite pleas from every landowner in the vicinity. The towns involved in the FHMS committee showed no consideration or neighborly feelings toward us in the almost two years we were forced to spend enormous resources fighting against a microwave tower in our front yard."

Somehow history was repeating itself. I received a phone call from a concerned resident saying the Heath Selectboard would be deciding on the microwave tower that evening and it was being treated as a utility pole. I frantically typed a letter to the Selectboard and logged on with my trusty (if it's not raining hard) HughesNet satellite service — we don't have broadband either. But it turns out Heath, unlike Charlemont, was prepared with a fixed wireless provision in their bylaws. The Selectboard pole hearing was transformed into a Planning Board Microwave Tower public hearing to review Wi-Valley’s application for a special permit. It’s scheduled for Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. (See https://townofheath.org/files/PUBLIC_HEARING_NOTICE_12-30-20docx.pdf.)

You can read letters already sent to the Heath Planning Board as well as information about an AT&T cell tower hearing in Ashfield scheduled for Jan. 20 at hilltownhealth.org. In Ashfield, concerned families have spent their savings hiring attorney Andrew Campanelli of anticelltowerlawyers.com a former telecom lawyer who decided he would rather defend the public than irradiate it.

If preserving community well-being and the environment are important to you, I would suggest sending an email expressing your views before these Zoom meetings to Heath's Planning Board at towncoordinator@townofheath.org and Ashfield's Planning Board at planning_brd@ashfield.org

If you don't live in either of these towns, please contact your planning board and ask them to update their telecom by-law to address 5G small cells. The FCC is giving billions to big wireless to speed up their build out in rural areas and this is a moment when we need our immune systems to be fully functional (yes, you should get your child an adapter and ethernet cable for their laptop, turning off the wi-fi on the computer and router). We have letter and bylaw templates, research and free consultations available at hilltownhealth.org.

Jonathan Mirin is a co-founding director of Hilltown Health, an organization dedicated to safe technology education and advocacy in Western Mass. and beyond. His wife was diagnosed with microwave sickness in 2012 and his solo show with Piti Theatre "Hawai'i 5G: Canary in the Gold Mine" will premiere this summer at the Ko Festival of Performance in Amherst. 

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