Letter To Editor: Wireless tower wrongly located

Editor Of The Independent:

In October 2018, the Wicomico County Board of Appeals was presented with an application for setback special exception for a wireless telecommunication installation on Fire Tower Road.  The application requested the setback be reduced 2.5 times, from 1,000 feet to approximately 400 feet for both the road and the residences along that road.

The application details were presented to the Board by the AT&T affiliated firm, Smartlink, based in Hanover, Md. The tower was described as being 195- to 199-feet-tall, positioned within a 50-foot-by-50-foot plot, located on Fire Tower Road. The facility will be visible for miles from Nanticoke Road, in addition to its visibility on Fire Tower.

Several crucial issues have not been addressed or answered:

  1. Fire Tower Road is subject to episodic flooding.  Agricultural fields and yards contain standing water for days, sometimes weeks after heavy rain. The road has, at times, become impassable and homes inaccessible. In summer mosquito spraying cannot always be performed due to wet conditions. Yet, the Smartlink/AT&T tower will increase the amount of impervious surfaces in an already poorly draining landscape. Compounding the disruption to natural drainage, the removal of trees from a 50-foot-by-50 foot plot will exacerbate these conditions. Although the soil is described as hydric — a soil that is formed under conditions of saturation, flooding or ponding — the proposal doesn’t acknowledge that flooding occurs and will increase while the tower is being built and is completed. You have only to drive one minute on Fire Tower from the proposed cell tower address toward Crooked Oak Lane to see permanent standing water where the forest has been recently thinned, demonstrating the effect of deforestation, as well as the effect of construction built within the last year.
  2. The plan omitted the cost to the county for potential damage from heavy construction equipment on the recently paved Fire Tower Road and subsequent water damage from flooding. With Nanticoke Road closed again because of flooding, (and no end in sight of reopening), the closure of Fire Tower would present economic as well as life challenges to residents.
  3. No data was presented regarding increased economic benefit, other than fitting with the county’s plan for development. There is no discussion of job creation or prospective companies migrating to the area because of the Smartlink/At&T cell tower. This begs the question: what economic development is slated for the western side of town?
  4. The photos on Fire Tower Road presented to the Appeals Board excluded homes that would be affected by declining property values. The representation of the tower with homes in the frame of view should have been included. Why was this kept from the Board?  AT&T’s own studies were cited that economic impact on property values will not be affected. The criteria used do not appear to have been evaluated by the Board, for comparison with size, distance from residences, and geography of cell tower location.
  5. Discussion of archaeological consideration was confined to historic consideration rather than on an archaeological field sample from the 50-foot-by-50-foot plot. This is in spite of resident testimony that artifacts have been discovered in the area and it was known to Native Americans.
  6. Finally, Wicomico County is setting a precedent that cell towers present a special case for granting zoning regulation exceptions, regardless of other less extreme options. In the case of Fire Tower Road, no justification was presented for the choice of an approximately 400-foot setback from residences versus the zoning specification of 1,000 feet, even though the planned parcel consists of 19-plus acres and the tower might have been located elsewhere within it to minimize disruption.

County residents should be concerned that this decision may be cited by the Appeals Board in future cases, having impact not only for Fire Tower Road but throughout the county.

Patricia Adelizzi

Adelizzi is a Fire Tower Road resident. — Editor.


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