Although federal and state laws restrict many actions municipalities can take to limit installation of 5G poles, Dewey Beach officials are set to possibly vote on a resolution regarding a 5G equipment and pole placement ordinance at council’s Oct. 9 meeting.
“We intend to do what we and our attorneys can to protect Dewey Beach from this intrusion, but we are very frustrated,” Mayor Dale Cooke said. “The ordinance will likely be referred to the planning and zoning committee for action/hearing.”
Cooke said he is upset and disappointed that small municipalities must contest with national telecommunications companies over placement of their infrastructure and poles.
“In a time when we are battling severe budget shortages because of COVID-19 issues, we find ourselves at a real disadvantage,” Cooke said. “These companies obviously know that towns – especially smaller ones with restricted budgets – would need to dedicate vast amounts of their limited income to even begin to think about going up against one or more nationwide businesses.”
The Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Investment Act of 2017 allows wireless providers to install 5G poles on state rights of way.
Delaware Department of Transportation Community Relations Director Charles “C.R.” McLeod said DelDOT is solely responsible for permitting poles in accordance with Delaware Code and its utility manual, which was published in 2007.
DelDOT has permitted Verizon to install 13 poles and Tilson to install five poles on state rights of way, interim Town Manager Jim Dedes said.
Delaware Code states installation should be collocated on existing infrastructure wherever feasible, and that DelDOT should approve permits unless it finds applications fail to comply with objective, reasonable design standards, and stealth and concealment requirements.
Verizon spokesperson David Weissmann said the company’s planned small cells comply with all applicable laws and aesthetic standards.
“Placing network equipment on existing infrastructure in the right of way is our preference, but in this case it was not possible due to use restrictions the local power provider has in place for existing poles,” Weissmann said.
Weissman could not be reached for comment as to what restrictions made collocating impossible and whether Verizon installed new poles to avoid paying power companies for the right to coexist on their poles.
Representatives from Tilson could not be reached for comment.
McLeod said DelDOT prefers installation to be collocated on existing structures, but if that is not possible, new poles are permitted. McLeod did not respond as to the feasibility of using existing poles in the right of way.
McLeod did not answer repeated questions as to how DelDOT, which he said is solely responsible for permitting the poles, determined the installation complied with reasonable design and stealth and concealment requirements.
“The municipality should address aesthetic concerns with the wireless provider,” McLeod said. “We don’t have anything further to add.”
DelDOT’s utility manual states that installations on, over or under state rights of way must meet or exceed requirements listed in the manual as well as any other applicable codes or regulations.
Other codes or regulations include the Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Investment Act, which requires installation on existing structures when feasible, and compliance with reasonable design and concealment.
The 2018 Dewey Beach Comprehensive Plan, a legal document per Delaware Code, details ways to preserve and protect the town’s existing character and natural environment, and improve streetscapes and landscapes. “The town should coordinate with DelDOT and utility companies on the placement of utilities and other infrastructure for maximum efficiency and overall community aesthetics,” the plan states.
Mat Marshall, spokesperson for the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, declined to comment, stating the office does not speak for nor represent Dewey Beach.
“We do represent DelDOT but can’t speak to any counsel we might give on this since that counsel is subject to attorney-client confidentiality,” he said.
Eric Hastings, legislative assistant to Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said Schwartzkopf has been in communication with Dewey Beach officials about the issue.
“There will be more discussions this week,” Hastings said.
Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, said he has heard from a few, but not many, more residents since he was first made aware of their concern.
“We are moving forward and are in the process of scheduling a meeting with the Town of Dewey Beach,” Lopez said.
The Wireless Infrastructure Association’s Small Cells on Pole Facilities primer states that existing infrastructure should be considered first for collocation before new poles are proposed, in order to reduce visual clutter and avoid unnecessary duplication of infrastructure.
“Collocation is today’s industry norm,” the primer states. “Shared wireless infrastructure minimizes the need for infrastructure, which is a practice that is supported by the environmental, historic and cultural preservation communities.”