DELAWARE OPPOSES STATE CELL TOWER BILL
Pike County Dispatch – Thursday, January 18, 2018
By Wayne Witkowski
DINGMANS FERRY – The Board of Supervisors at last week’s meeting unanimously adopted a resolution opposing House Bill 1620, which the supervisors feel could deplete total local autonomy over wireless cell tower companies and crimp potential revenue.
The topic has been discussed recently at meetings at Milford Borough and other Pike municipalities as well.
House Bill 1620 would amend the act of Oct. 24, 2012 (P.L. 1501, No 191). Known as the Wireless Broadband Collocation Act, the bill would affect regulation of wireless support structures, for processing of applications, for enforcement and for preservation of local governing authority and providing for use of public right-of-way to get access to municipal poles.
Delaware Township supervisors disagree.
“It is a bill for potentially dozens of mini-cell towers to come into municipalities and takes away control of their right of way,” said Supervisor Jane Neufeld during brief discussion on the subject and before passing the resolution. She told residents that townships would lose “large amounts of money” from changes in permitting fees.
The proposed bill would streamline the latest wireless build-out so that companies won’t have to file zoning permits for each new small cell, which takes time and can incur numerous permitting fees. The bill would enable a utility to install dozens of towers under only one permitting fee.
A memo from the state General Assembly posted online by the amendment sponsors, including primary sponsor Nick Miccarelli, R-Delaware County, said seven of 10 emergency calls come from a wireless device. Wireless data transmission experienced 175 percent growth between 2012 and 2014. By 2019, mobile data traffic will be nearly six times the 2014 amount, the memo reads.
To address the growing demands for enhanced wireless communications services, including high-speed broadband in rural Pennsylvania, wireless providers are erecting mini towers, many on utility poles, in targeted areas of the Commonwealth. Lawmakers feel the bill will encompass the 2,562 local governments that have varying municipal zoning ordinances for wireless infrastructure siting and inconsistent fees.
The memo reads, “Compliance is burdensome, time-consuming, costly and not only impedes but sometimes outright prohibits the deployment of small cell wireless infrastructure needed to meet consumer demands.”
Neufeld expressed concern that this could lead to a proliferation of towers set up in the township. It also could replace cable services. The supervisors at the meeting had approved Cohen Law Group to perform cable franchise renewal services for $8,900.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in November that Lancaster officials have opposed a plan to put more than 70 small-cell antennas for wireless services on big new poles in the city’s historic areas. “The City would look Godawful with these towners all over,” Charlotte Katzenmoyer, the city’s director of public works, said in the report.
Bill sponsors, on the other hand contend local government will maintain its authority over zoning and land use. Delaware Township supervisors disagree, saying the legislation will strip their jurisdiction over their municipality’s land in representing taxpaying residents.
Township Supervisor Robert Lovenheim from Smithfield in neighboring Monroe County has been quoted calling the legislation “rights-of-way robbery” because it takes so much authority away from local municipalities. “We have to have some zoning control but maybe not all zoning control,” he said. “It’s got to be fair on both sides.”
But Brooks Mountcastle, environmental planner for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office, commented that the legislation “would have a chilling effect on democracy since it would prohibit the public from commenting during the approval process. Municipalities would be prohibited from being fully indemnified, and having bonding and insurance coverage for facilities in public rights of way.”
The General Assembly memo disagrees, feeling it will fast track through cumbersome red tape in paperwork and reduce fees.
“Siting permit applications (will become) consistent with common sense limitations,” the memo reads. “Specifically, the legislation will limit the imposition of fees, permitting requirements and general policies above and beyond fees, requirements and policies imposed on other companies occupying the public rights-of-way. It also prohibits a municipality from requiring a wireless provider to justify the deployment of its infrastructure as a stipulation in the permit application process. This will result in a more efficient and economical process for siting small cell wireless infrastructure… for reliable wireless and high-speed broadband deployment.”
House Bill 1620 has been sitting in the House’s Consumer Affairs Committee chaired by Robert Godshall, R-Montgomery, with Thomas Caltagirone, D-Berks as the Democratic chairman before it is advanced to the House floor for vote.
COST OF LIVING INCREASES
Also at the meeting, the supervisors approved cost of living increases for nine full-time employees and one part-time employee. Increases were at 2 percent except for the road master, whose increase is between 2 and 3 percent, said township Administrator Krista Predmore. Michael Kolenet at the Jan. Reorganization Meeting was appointed road master after Charlie Kroener retired at the end of last year.
The board also released to the public copies of a report from McGoey, Hauser & Edsall engineers on its inspection last fall of the Log and Twig Road Bridge over Hornbeck’s Creek. Although it said elements of the bridge are in “satisfactory condition” with the road surface showing “minor wear and cracks,” there also are signs of heave efflorescence and active seepage along one beam.
George Beodeker, who plans to step down as Emergency Management Coordinator this year when a successor is appointed, recommended the township prioritize what work needs to be done before submitting it to the county and engineers Boucher & James for scrutiny.
The board said it will advertise for an emergency management coordinator but followed Beodeker’s input that the job should include a stipend higher than the $1,000 that has been in place for 20 years. They said they would not specify the amount of the stipend in the ad but determine the amount based on the scope of work to be done. The board also adopted the township’s Emergency Operations Plan. It is not a new plan but just establishing it under a new board of supervisors, said Beodeker.
The board also is advertising for a Sewage Enforcement Officer and a township auditor.