Work has started on the construction of a cellphone tower in Wadhams, Essex County. Pictured: The schematic submitted by Verizon Wireless to the Adirondack Park Agency.
WADHAMS — Can you hear me now?
Unfortunately, the answer is “not really” when using a cell phone in Wadhams, where service has been historically spotty.
But Verizon subscribers in Wadhams will see markedly better service by this summer.
Blasting has commenced on a new cell phone tower on Route 10, just north of the hamlet.
“The work has started and the site is expected to be on air by the end of the second quarter,” said Carolyn Schamberger, a Verizon spokesperson.
Verizon does not give out local subscriber numbers.
“I can tell you that this new site will provide new 4G LTE coverage to the main populated and tourist areas along NY-22, generally from Westport Hamlet and extending north through Wadhams Hamlet and continuing to approximately the Essex town line,” Schamberger said.
The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) approved plans for the 111-foot cell tower came in May 2015.
Disguised to a mimic a white pine, the structure will rise above the tree canopy, and will be topped with a five-foot “crown branch” visible for at least two miles.
The height is within “naturally occurring conditions,” according to the permit, and the visible components will be painted to mesh with the surrounding landscape.
The structure will be erected on a 100-by-100 foot footprint owned by Riverat Glass and Electric.
Utilities will be buried, according to the permit, and the site is 157 feet from the road, and about a quarter-mile from the Boquet River.
Communications equipment will also be constructed on the parcel, including a series of eight-foot antenna.
The project drew no public comments during the permitting process.
The Westport Planning Board had previously ruled that the proposed use is allowed under current zoning regulations.
The town is supportive of the plan. A tower exists at the Westport Country Club, but it’s just 20 feet tall.
“For health reasons and security reasons, it’s about time Wadhams had cell service,” said Supervisor Michael “Ike” Tyler.
Verizon was required to detail extensive environmental safeguards as part of the permitting process, including grading and erosion control plans. The use of insecticides will also be prohibited on the lease area, and a “no cutting” easement will protect trees in the vicinity of the tower that aren’t flagged to be removed as part of the construction process.
Additional regulations govern what will happen if natural factors damage equipment, and all tools and equipment — including shovels and pickaxes — must be cleaned before being brought on-site to reduce the risk of spreading invasive species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service weighed in on the impact to endangered species during the permitting process.
All cutting on the half-acre project site must be completed between Oct. 31 and March 31 while the endangered Indiana and Northern Long-Eared bats are in hibernation to “eliminate the potential for direct impacts during their active season.”
The APA concluded the tower will “not have an undue adverse impact upon the natural, scenic, aesthetic, ecological, wildlife, historic, recreational or open space resources of the Park or upon the ability the public to provide supporting facilities and services made necessary by the project.”
The activity has sparked concern from area residents who said they were unaware of the project until they noticed construction activity last week.
While she admitted her opinion isn’t a popular one, Sally Smith said she was concerned about the possible impact of cell phone towers on human, plant and animal populations, and was researching to learn more information about how the tower may affect living organisms.
“It’s not a fruit and nut thing, it’s not a Republican and Democrat thing — it’s a human health thing,” Smith said. “I think if people knew the science, they might not have approved of this.”
Smith said she will continue her research, and hopes to keep residents abreast of her findings.
“It’s going to be a really hard thing to convince people of because everyone (including myself) loves the convenience of the wireless world,” Smith said in an email, “but it comes at such a cost.”
According to the American Cancer Society, public exposure to radio waves from cell phone tower antennas is slight: the power levels are relatively low, the antennas are mounted high above ground level, and the signals are transmitted intermittently rather than constantly.
Cell phones communicate with towers through radio frequency waves, a form of non-ionizing radiation.
“This means they do not directly damage the DNA inside cells, which is how stronger (ionizing) types of radiation such as x-rays, gamma rays, and ultraviolet light are thought to be able to cause cancer,” said the ACA.
Furthermore, the amount of radiofrequency energy at the ground level is thousands of times less than the limits for safe exposure set by the U.S. Federal Communication Commission and other regulatory authorities, said the organization.
“It is very unlikely that a person could be exposed to radiofrequency levels in excess of these limits just by being near a cell phone tower,” said the ACA.
Tim McGarry tends bees in Wadhams, about a quarter-mile from the future site of a new cell phone tower. McGarry said the tower may compound problems already threatening honeybee populations in North America.
Photo by Pete DeMola
Tim McGarry maintains an organic apiary located about a quarter-mile from the site. He’s concerned about the possible impact of electromagnetic fields on his honeybees.
Bees have faced a number of challenges — including parasites and colony collapse disorder, when worker bees disappear and leave behind the queen — that have had farmers and experts concerned about what this means for honeybee survival in North America.
The construction of a cell phone tower poses another potential problem, McGarry said.
Several studies from Europe have revealed when bees are exposed to cell phone towers, bees emit a sound that indicates they are threatened, McGarry said. Colonies also engage in pre-swarming behavior, an indication they may disappear.
“As long as a frequency is sustained in their presence, their alarmed behavior continues,” McGarry said.
McGarry admitted his concerns are a controversial issue, and tied the cell tower to broader technological advancements whose impacts on living populations may only be beginning to be understood.
“It’s really a big experiment that we’re working with right now,” McGarry said.
The issue, he said, offers a inside look at the intersection between industry-funded research in academic journals and more critical findings.
McGarry, who also owns an organic farm about a mile away from the tower site, studied at the University of Connecticut.
In the years following his graduation, he’s seen a number of findings by his professors upended — including those on organic agriculture, which his mentors said would never be sustainable. The same goes for studies on genetics and plant-breeding.
“When you have the industry that funds the research, you have biased research,” McGarry said.
And on his bees: “I have enough of a challenge to keep bees alive with drought last year,” McGarry said. ”It’s just one more assault I have to contend with. I will do what I have to do, and will likely move those bees out of there.”
Schamberger, the Verizon spokesperson, said they are mindful of these concerns.
“I would like to learn more about the bee colony as we were not aware of this,” Schamberger said. “However, I can tell you that we work with local jurisdictions to ensure all applicable federal, state and local regulations are followed and all of our projects are thoroughly vetted through the NEPA/SHPO/Regulatory process.”