By Michael Yoder
Residents of Lancaster Township were unsuccessful earlier this month in their attempt to add a series of health and safety provisions to an ordinance related to the installation of 5G technology in the township.
The Lancaster Township Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on July 11 to approve Ordinance 2022-01 – Small Wireless Facility Ordinance, designed to establish standards for the installation of 5G infrastructure in the township. The ordinance comes from the Pennsylvania Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act 50 of 2021, which was passed nearly unanimously by the Pennsylvania legislature and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf.
Act 50 created installation standards of small cell towers in all state municipalities.
However, Lancaster Township Manager William Laudien said the Board of Supervisors will consider a list of 25 different provisions provided to the township for changes to the ordinance, giving it to their attorney to review and to bring back possible amendments.
Laudien said he didn’t want residents to feel the board was “ignoring them in the process” of adopting the ordinance and recognized concerns they have. But he said having an ordinance in place was important to hold developers accountable and have some rules in place.
“As technology changes, as information changes, as we get some clarification on some of these items, then I’m willing to make a commitment that we bring those to the board and amend the ordinance so that the ordinance provides the greatest level of safety,” Laudien said. “But to walk away tonight without any controls in place and run the risk of (developers) running amok, I don’t think was in our best interest.”
Ordinance 2022-01 is similar to others passed in municipalities throughout Pennsylvania, establishing procedures and different policies for the placement and installation of “small wireless facilities and associated utility poles in rights-of-way” and to “provide public benefit consistent with the preservation of the integrity, safe usage, and visual qualities of the township rights-of-way and the township as a whole.”
The Lancaster Township ordinance sets application and fee schedules, including the wireless provider paying “$500 for a single up-front application for a pole license that may include up to five small wireless facilities, with an additional $100 for each small wireless facility beyond five; and $1,000 in non-recurring fees for each new associated utility pole.” The wireless providers are also required to pay an annual right-of-way fee of $270 per small wireless facility or $270 per new utility pole with a small wireless facility.
Several residents spoke both in favor and against the ordinance.
Lancaster Township resident Richard Myers was one of the most vocal against the ordinance, addressing the board in both February and March and presenting more than 4,300 scientific studies reporting the hazards of pulse modulated microwave radiation transmitted by 5G antennas. Myers said some of the adverse health effects from the radiation include cancers, heart disorders, neurological damage, sterility and damage to DNA.
Myers said the studies show that anywhere from 3-10% of the general population are estimated to be injured or sensitive to microwave radiation. He said with Lancaster Township’s population of 18,000 residents, translates anywhere from 540 to 1,800 people impacted.
“Those who falsely claim that there is no scientific evidence that microwave radiation is harmful to humans and other life forms simply do not know what they’re talking about,” Myers said.
Myers said government officials have also claimed that their “hands are tied” by the passage of Act 50 and that supervisors have no authority to “stop or regulate the irresponsible placement of 5G antennas.” He said the 1996 Telecommunications Act passed by Congress “explicitly preserved to state and local governments broad powers which include the placement, construction, modification and operation of wireless facilities.”
As a remedy to the language of the ordinance, Myers offered 25 different requirements to add to the language to create more stipulations for the 5G installers.
Some of the points included a requirement for owners and/or operators of the 5G units to test antenna emissions “prior to initial operation” and submit an FCC compliance report from a licensed professional engineer to the township. It also calls for annual testing of units, random and unannounced testing and measuring and reporting the “cumulative impact from other nearby antennas in these reports.”
Myers also asked that the township require the owners and operators to turn off antenna transmissions “if found to be in excess of allowable limits” and a “revocation of permits or licenses for repeated violations.”
To protect Lancaster Township officials and taxpayers, Myers called for requirements for the permit holder to hold “Lancaster Township, its officers, employees, agents, attorney, and volunteers harmless from any official claim brought against the township to include loss of property values and personal injuries.”
Myers said “government malfeasance” on the federal and state level has put the township and other municipalities “in a difficult and unenviable position not of your making.”
“I sympathize because I know you have the health, safety and welfare of Lancaster Township residents and family members at heart,” Myers said.
Donna Bevinchak of East Hempfield Township said her “whole life has been changed” by the proliferation of 5G technology, saying she has become disabled by 5G and smart meters and spends most of her time in her home. Bevinchak said when she began speaking out about the health effects from 5G towers to her own board of supervisors, there were no permits filed to install towers.
“Once they passed the 5G ordinance, that’s when the telecoms started to put in permits, because they want to take liability off of them and put it on to you,” Bevinchak said. “So, once you pass that ordinance, the liability will be put on the township. And this is true.”
Kyle Atteberry, a pilot from Lititz, said aviators have received warnings from the government about the impacts of high frequency from 5G units on plane altimeters and other instrumentation. Atteberry said he was concerned by a lack of “safety or accountability language” in the ordinance.
“We don’t want to cut corners and vote,” Atteberry said. “History doesn’t bode well for cutting corners. You all have an opportunity to be heroes here and take a step back, go back to the drawing board and put safety and accountability language back into this draft.”
Laudien said the federal and state governments decided to treat wireless facilities as a public utility, putting them under the purview of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. Laudien said utilities are granted access to municipalities with limited opportunities for change, comparing it to a scenario of having the Pennsylvania Turnpike running through the municipality and not being able to dictate the speed limits on the roadway.
“What Act 50 did was carve out some very small controls for local management,” Laudien said. “This ordinance is not opening the door. It’s not permitting these wireless facilities to go in – it’s managing. The wireless facilities are already allowed to go in whether or not we have an ordinance. The only thing the ordinance is going to afford us is some way to manage and control the installation process and to recoup some costs against that process.”
Staff writer Michael Yoder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @YoderReports on Twitter.