Health board issues Verizon cease and desist order for ‘unfit’ tower but now needs $84,000 to defend it
Tomorrow, Pittsfield, Massachusetts Board of Health (BoH) officials will ask the city council to uphold their cease and desist order against Verizon Wireless to stop using a cell tower at 877 South Street, seeking $84,000 in legal fees for two of the outside lawyers, although some members believe their attempt will be futile.
The BoH issued an emergency order on April 11, 2022, giving Verizon until last Friday to request a hearing on the order or the BoH would shut down the 115-foot Monopoly site that was activated in August 2020. The BoH BoH said its emergency order will reduce a “nuisance”.
The ordinance enters uncharted legal waters as it is based largely on resident complaints of headaches, nausea, dizziness, tinnitus, insomnia, palpitations and other health issues, and not because it exceeds FCC compliance standards.
In fact, last July the BoH held a hearing and city officials said a study of RF emissions determined the tower was safe.
However, Gina Armstrong, the city’s health director, suggested that despite the low RF readings, the question of the tower’s possible health impact in the neighborhood cannot be dismissed.
To circumvent FCC telecommunications law guidelines that prevent RF concerns from being used to deny tower location, BoH says pulsed RF can “directly cause harm to at least some people” and that they “may actually render certain dwellings unfit for human habitation or constitute a condition likely to endanger or materially harm the health or safety and well-being of an occupant, as defined in State Sanitary Code 410.020.”
According to attorneys at two law firms offering to represent the City, due to “the great public importance of this matter” they have reduced their normal billing rates from $650 and $750 per hour to $400. .
Their proposal provides that through their representation, if they cannot get Verizon into negotiations to resolve the issue – at a cost of $24,000 – they will represent BoH in litigation for $60,000, allowing 150 hours.
However, they note that if Verizon files a lawsuit in federal or Massachusetts trial court, the budget would likely increase.
Most of the 11,000 pages of documents provided to the BoH came from the Environmental Health Trust (EHT). One of the lawyers indicated that he was counsel for EHT in Environmental Health Trust v. FCC.
The EHT said it also provided 11,000 pages of documents as part of that lawsuit.
Last February, when the BoH approved the order which was delivered this month, in a NPR broadcast, BoH chair Bobbi Orsi said: “There’s a very good chance we won’t win this. You know, and in some ways we know that Verizon is in some way following FCC guidelines, which right now we know don’t sufficiently protect public health.
BoH member Brad Gordon also had reservations about the success of the order.
“I don’t think, based on our conversations, that this is going to magically change Verizon’s position, and I think it’s going to end up in court, and I think then they’re going to – I mean, I don’t see how they’re not prevailing in court,” he said. “And in some ways that makes them stronger. So, but, you know, if people feel like he at least has to have some action it’s a way to show some action but again i feel like i want it recorded that i think it will be extremely little likely to change anything.