BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The push to replace a new cellular tower in Bridgewater has begun.
Representatives from the NY SMSA Limited Partnership (Verizon Wireless), along with Cingular Wireless and Sprint Spectrum, appeared before the Bridgewater Township Council Dec. 5 to discuss taking down the current cell tower at Block 176, Lot 1 on Milltown Road. The goal is to replace it with a temporary cell tower, before installing a new, permanent tower in the future.
Attorney Gregory Meese appeared before the council, along with attorney Chris Quinn and engineer Michel Patel, to tell the council that Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) had notified him that the current tower has to be taken down and replaced with a newer structure. The tower is embedded inside a high voltage transmission line.
A temporary facility is planned to be put in place of the original later next year, likely beginning around September, and the project will last about a year or so.
He said the process of taking down such cell towers has been going on for several years.
“(PSE&G) is getting better at it,” said Meese.
Meese said that even with a compressed timeframe, the carriers are concerned about maintaining service, particularly since he added that more than 50 percent of local homes now have wireless phones only.
“We’re coming before the council to seek a license for a temporary facility,” said Meese. “It’s a little complicated.”
He added that there are restrictions on the property, which might require a public bid, among other concessions.
“It’s a costly project,” said Meese, who added that an existing equipment shelter would be left in place for now.
Meese said there would be two towers on the site for a short period of time, the original and the temporary one. The original will then be taken down, to be followed by construction of the third, permanent tower, before the temporary one is finally dismantled.
Council president Matthew Moench asked if the temporary tower would feature the same equipment and level of technology as the current structure. Patel replied that it will be a smaller version, with two antennas per carrier instead of four to six, to provide the same coverage to the public.
The new, permanent tower would feature current technology when it is completed and brought into service.
“Our technology is changing all the time,” said Patel.
Meese said the wireless technology is expected to remain of the 4G standard. Moench asked if PSE&G would be the one to actually put up the new tower, and was told they would.
“The decision is dictated above them,” said Meese. “They’re obligated by federal regulations.”
The proposed distance from the new tower to the closest house would be about 250 feet away, Patel said. The tower itself would be about 125 feet high, with cables to be routed through protective barriers to ensure they are not disturbed during dismantling of the tower.
Moench added that it is a matter of aesthetics, with an additional goal of keeping individuals from trespassing on the site.
“We don’t want people having access,” he said.
Concerning leases, deputy council attorney Chris Corsini said an existing lease on the property could be discussed, while Meese said it would be appreciated if the process could be accomplished without a bid.
According to Meese, the timeline is to get council approval; negotiate a lease or bid; obtain two code provisions for the temporary facility, both general and wireless; and obtain an exemption from the zoning board, as there is little to no leeway for the project to take more than a year to complete.
Asked what would happen if the council said no to the group, Meese responded that a new site would be sought, triggering a “race against the clock,” as they want to ensure that residents will be able to have their current cell service. An alternate site, governed by Jersey Central Power and Light (JCP&L), was mentioned, although Patel said that one would require new equipment.
Meese said Milltown Road is the preferred site.
Councilman Filipe Pedroso asked if there is a contractual obligation to remove the existing tower, and Meese said there is. Quinn said PSE&G is terminating the license on Sept. 1, 2020, and that the existing tower has to be off the site by then.
Pedroso said a letter of intent could be drafted, to re-install a tower, while Meese added that he could obtain a letter from PSE&G.
Pedroso asked if the temporary tower would generate the same or less radio frequency (RF), regarding electromagnetic waves, and Patel said that he was not specifically an RF expert. Meese said it would be about the same height as the existing tower, and that he could provide the council with an expert report.
Pedroso responded he would like to be presented with the RF information, as he doesn’t want to assume anything.
Moench asked Meese to consult with the township attorneys and provide that information, to which Meese agreed. Moench also said the council would likely not determine anything regarding the situation before its reorganization meeting Jan. 1.
Martinsville resident Jeff Foose said that Meese and his group tended to just slam down towers into residential areas, and he asked the council to hold them accountable.
“Their track record is poor,” said Foose.
He also believed that constructing a brand-new tower should first have to go before the zoning board for approval.
Bridgewater resident Cathy Franco said she could not find Block 176, Lot 1 on any map. Moench said the assumption was that those numbers were correct, while Norgalis called it a “peeve” of his that block and lot numbers were often listed in zoning board applications without a corresponding street address.
“I share your frustrations,” said Norgalis, who added he would work in the coming year to have such addresses or at least nearby intersections included.