National Park Service, UDC to respond to Delaware River cell towers

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The Upper Delaware Council (UDC) has formed a subcommittee to explore compatibility and the possibility of allowing cell towers in the 73.4-mile Upper Delaware River Corridor, where in many areas there are has a lack of coverage.

The inability to use a cell phone was raised as more than an inconvenience, but more of a public safety issue in the event of an emergency.

Following discussion at the June session of the UDC, the matter was referred to the project review committee and referred to the full board on July 7. UDC Vice President Aaron Robinson and Shohola Township, Pike County Representative on the UDC Council, have agreed to chair the new council’s Position Paper Subcommittee on Telecommunications Facilities.

Any UDC member or National Park Service personnel are welcome to participate. Robinson stressed his intention to run it as a productive working committee. The first appointment was set for August 4 at 6 p.m. at the UDC office.

A preliminary step will be for UDC staff to gather relevant cell tower ordinances and plans from Pennsylvania townships and New York cities in the corridor that are council members.

Related‘Necessary evil’: Council to review Upper Delaware ban on cell phone towers

“One of the goals of this research project is to produce a position paper for the UDC and NPS that provides an interpretation of the compatibility of communication towers in the mostly private area of ​​the Upper Delaware River Corridor, or potentially under what conditions and designated segments,” said UDC executive director Laurie Ramie.

The issue of emergency communications, voiced many times over the UDC’s 34-year history, came up again in May when researching proposed revisions to the Town of Tusten’s zoning ordinance. .

Tusten’s proposal to list communications towers and antennae as a “special use” in the city’s Recreational River Zoning District has sparked a new discussion within the UDC that the current ban may need to be reconsidered.

Although previously interpreted as inconsistent with the River Management Plan (RMP) land and water use guidelines adopted in 1986 as restricted “major commercial development”, council members noted that the RMP was adopted before cell towers existed and define towers that way. can protect “scenic views” from falls with the Plan’s mandate to “prevent river recreational accidents and minimize hazards” as well as “provide better emergency communication and river information”.

The question was how the National Park Service (NPS), Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River would respond.

At the June UDC meeting, Cody Hendrix, community land use planner for the NPS in Upper Delaware, said the park service allows cell towers in parks. Larry Richardson, Town of Cochecton, responded that if this is a change to NPS policy, NPS must explain it to the project review committee. He said the UDC had discussed this extensively in the past and the park service had made it clear that towers were not permitted in the river valley.

During the June 28 project review session, Hendrix and Jessica Weinman, NPS Chief Facilities Officer, shared portions of an NPS reference manual outlining standards on the placement of new telecommunications services. to avoid a direct conflict with the mission of the department or agency.

Weinman pointed out that the manual refers to park lands owned by the federal government, which is different from the unique situation in Upper Delaware where nearly all of the corridor remains privately owned.

Karen Engelhardt, UDC Resource & Land Use Specialist, noted that the manual doesn’t outright reject cell towers, but it’s clear the NPS’s intent is to develop planning documents on how to manage them. Weinman agreed and advised the Park Service and UDC to work on a joint position paper to address this issue.

A position paper would justify when cell towers might be appropriate in certain areas. They discussed in committee the need to approve a “major amendment” to the RMP, which requires all member municipalities to agree on guidelines such as the number of towers allowed and their location. They also considered whether an “interpretation letter” was appropriate on how to define cell towers as commercial use.

Jim Greier, UDC – City of Fremont, said it was a matter of public safety, noting that when the RMP was written, landlines were everywhere.

There were two members of the public at the project review meeting, however, expressing their opinion that cell towers should not be allowed in the Upper Delaware Corridor.

Robert Berg, a Scarsdale, NY attorney who calls himself a fly fisherman and conservationist, pointed out that Upper Delaware is a “national treasure” designated as a wild and scenic river and must therefore be protected from cell towers. He said they are inconsistent with the river’s management plan, and as a lawyer in recent years he has specialized in challenging wireless telecommunications facilities across the country.

Of interest:NJ Congressman Says Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area Shouldn’t Be a National Park

Berg cited unspecified environmental studies exploring the risks of such towers and electromagnetic radiation on flora and fauna, and also referenced the visual impact of a tower intruding into the sky. A major environmental impact assessment would be required, he said, not a straightforward process given the involvement of the NPS, UDC and local municipalities.

Additionally, Berg said gaps in cellphone coverage aren’t usually a significant issue, adding that “there are other ways to deal with it than sticking a tower in your scenic river corridor.”

His daughter Zoe Berg, is a law student and avid angler who currently works for an environmental health nonprofit called the Environmental Health Trust. They assist municipalities and state legislatures, and also correspond with federal officials on how to enact policies that adequately protect public health and the environment.

She referred to a 2014 letter the US Department of the Interior sent to the FCC about environmental studies showing radiation damage from communication towers on nesting birds.

Zoe Berg offered to pass on information about environmental studies and said she and her father could come up with proposals to accept wireless telecommunications in the scenic corridor.

Hancock City Representative Fred Peckham told Project Review that cellular service providers aren’t interested in this area because there aren’t enough subscribers. Richardson countered that the UDC’s only job is to come up with reasonable guidelines.

This was the stated view of Delaware Alternate City Representative Harold Roder that the NPS “blocked” the idea of ​​cellphone towers in the river corridor a few years ago. Virginia Dudko, UDC – City of Deerpark, responded that it was (the present) another time.

The UDC has already gone through this process, developing a position paper with the NPS on solar farm compatibility, another innovation not anticipated by RMP drafters in the 1980s.

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