Legislators: poles coming down in Dewey

Verizon says it is working with Delmarva Power to use existing structures
June 25, 2021

Days after a lawsuit challenging Verizon’s 5G poles on Dewey Beach was filed in Delaware Chancery Court, local legislators say Verizon will take some of them down.

“We're still working on it. It's not a slam dunk, but it's pretty close,” said Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, who released a statement with Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, on June 25 about the poles coming down.

Schwartzkopf said he and Lopez have been talking to a local Verizon representative about its five 5G poles that began to go up along Dewey Beach at the end of 2020, and are now the center of a Chancery Court lawsuit filed by residents who want them removed.

Lopez did not return a request for comment before the Cape Gazette's deadline.

Up to now, Schwartzkopf said, Verizon has not been allowed to use existing poles owned by Delmarva Power, but that may soon change.

Schwartzkopf said the Verizon representative shared that the company is working to move existing poles on Clayton and Cullen streets. A third pole, which is in the middle of a dune crossing, will be moved left or right into the pole line because Delmarva does not have any poles in that area for Verizon to move onto.

“They'll at least get it out the way of the dune line. Hopefully we'll have final approval on the three poles to move,” he said, adding the companies are working out details for the two remaining poles. “Delmarva is taking it on a pole-by-pole basis.”

A Delmarva Power spokesman said he cannot provide specifics on whether or not Verizon applied to use Delmarva's existing poles. He referred further questions to Verizon.

Verizon spokesperson Chris Serico said Verizon takes into account the unique needs and existing infrastructure in each community to provide the best possible network.

“Delmarva Power recently made available two existing poles, which were not available during the original design phase, for small-cell usage in Dewey Beach. While not every existing structure is appropriate for small-cell equipment, our preference is to collocate on existing poles when they meet safety, logistics and coverage standards. We'll continue to research and collaborate to see if additional local options meet those crucial standards,” he said.

Schwartzkopf said the 2017 Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Investment Act was never intended to place infrastructure on Delaware's beaches. After the bill was signed into law by Gov. John Carney, Schwartzkopf said Verizon met with all the beach towns about placing 5G structures in their communties. “The only one that didn't reply was Dewey,” he said.

Around 2019, Schwartzkopf said, an outgoing Dewey town manager gave the OK for Verizon to install its 5G poles, after the representative drove to Dewey Beach and spoke to the official in person.

“He basically said, 'They look fine to me,' and gave them the approval to move forward,” Schwartzkopf said. “A lot of people don't know that, and are upset that the town wasn't notified, but the town was notified.”

After the Cape Gazette’s press deadline, former Town Manager Scott Koenig said he believed he had approved two Verizon 5G locations, both on existing utility poles on Route 1 in front of Nalu and the other just north of the Little Store, before his August 2000 resignation. Verizon had also submitted a drawing of a fat flag pole for the Life Saving Station that was not approved before he resigned, Koenig said, adding that he didn't recall whether the poles at the end of the streets had been submitted for review.

Schwartzkopf said the town commissioners may not have known about the town manager's decision.

On June 21, Dewey Beach residents Alex Pires, Diane Cooley, and John Snow filed a class-action lawsuit against Verizon, asking that Verizon remove the five 5G poles that were placed on the beach since the end of 2019, and prevent any more from going up.

Pires said he would like to see Verizon move the poles sooner rather than later.

"It would be wonderful if Verizon worked with our little town of Dewey and moved the poles now,” he said.

Dan Dioniso, chair of Save Dewey Beach, stated in a June 27 email to Verizon, Lopez and Schwartzkopf that a protest against the placement of the poles set for Monday, July 5 will go on.

Dionisio said the group appreciated the early news regarding the pole relocation, but was disappointed with the lack of details or a formal press release and no comment being made by Verizon. “The protest, movement and awareness campaign will continue,” he wrote.

Dionisio wrote that he was contacted by Dewey residents who said they had heard similar promises from their representatives’ offices in the past “and nothing has ever come from them.”

“Our organization is interested in looking forward and having all of these poles relocated away from Dewey’s beaches quickly while ensuring this does not happen again,” Dionisio wrote. 

Verizon’s placement of the poles lacked thoughtfulness that should have been exhibited for a small coastal beach town, Dionisio stated, particularly when other engineering solutions were possible. 

“An organization doing what they could get away with is what makes all of this look so bad,” Dionisio wrote, noting that the group will next focus on Tilson’s efforts to do the same. Tilson is another telecommunications company installing poles in the area.

The protest calling for the relocation of the poles away from the beaches is set for 9:30 to 11 a.m., Monday, July 5, at the beach end of Rodney Avenue.

Note: This post was updated with new information at 1 p.m., June 29.

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