Dewey Beach commissioners voted unanimously Sept. 10 to enter a funding agreement with the state which would provide $375,000 to the town for relocating 5G poles installed by wireless carriers, which must also reach an agreement with the town to move the poles.
Town Manager Bill Zolper said Dewey Beach will have three years to use the state funds, which can only be spent for pole relocation. Any unused funds have to be returned to the state, he said, and the town must work with the 5G companies that own the poles to make the relocation happen.
“That’s the way it reads,” Town Counsel Fred Townsend said. “It’s use it or lose it.”
Commissioner Bill Stevens said the agreement takes the responsibility to pay for the pole relocations away from the owners of the 5G poles that installed them.
“How much will it cost to move a pole and how did we come up with $375,000?” Stevens asked. “It’s a random number. I was just curious how they determined $375,000.”
Mayor Dale Cooke said the state determined the number. After the vote, Jeffrey Smith of Dewey Citizens for Accountability said he was happy to hear the poles would be moved, but that no one explained how the $375,000 figure was reached. He said no other towns have been offered money to have poles relocated.
“Why is Dewey getting this money and not others?” Smith asked.
Cooke said he would not attempt to answer that question. The state offered the money, Cooke said, to help the town pay for removal of existing poles if an agreement is reached with the wireless companies.
“We’re going to have to negotiate a final agreement,” Cooke said. “We’re not going to lay blame or attempt to take blame.”
Smith said for transparency, the residents should know how the agreement transpired. Cooke said he agreed, but the town had not yet come to a final negotiated solution.
“When and if we do, it will have to be done in front of the public,” Cooke said.
Townsend said nothing in the agreement suggests fault or justification; rather, it removes the monetary impediment to moving the poles.
“There's nothing in the MOU and there's nothing the commissioners would have to say or would be implying by entering into this MOU that there’s a smoking gun of any sort or there's any fault or inappropriate actions that have been taken in the past,” Townsend said.
Commissioner Paul Bauer said the $375,000 figure was determined by taking the cost to remove one pole, which is $14,000, and extrapolating that cost to Dewey’s 21 streets, with the extra funding as a cushion.
After the meeting, Smith said he doubted the town could successfully negotiate with Verizon, which he said is a multinational corporation backed by hundreds of lawyers and lobbyists.
“There is no mention of the Verizon stipulation in the MOU text that was posted some period of days before the meeting,” Smith said in a Sept. 13 email. “There is no signature block for Verizon on that agreement either, but they are effectively a party holding veto power over it being fulfilled. Why wasn’t the purported agreement and its huge stipulation of a Verizon agreement disclosed in any form to the public before the meeting or more than 10 minutes before the vote?”
In a Sept. 15 email, Verizon spokesperson Chris Serico said Verizon has started conversations with the town and other local officials about moving small cells from Clayton and Cullen streets to existing Delmarva Power locations, but the company is unable to move forward with relocation plans that may be affected by a pending legal challenge.
Serico said the legal challenge in question is the class-action lawsuit filed June 21 by Dewey residents Alex Pires, Diane Cooley and John Snow seeking to remove five 5G poles on the beach and prevent the carrier from installing any more.
Three poles were installed without permits being obtained from Dewey Beach, and two other installations did not follow proper permitting requirements, according to the lawsuit, which also states Verizon could install up to eight more cell towers on the sand dunes. On July 1, the Delaware Court of Chancery issued a temporary restraining order in which Verizon agreed to halt the installation of more poles.
In a Sept. 15 email, Zolper said town officials have not spoken to Verizon since Verizon told the town they are now constrained by risks that come with relocating poles subject to pending litigation.