Council learns about small cell tower expansion

HURLOCK – Small cell towers. It sounds innocuous. Even kind of cute. But the prospect of small cell towers dotting the urban landscape is far from cute. It has raised an issue that pits cities and counties against the huge wireless giants. There are proponents and opponents on both sides and the topic was discussed at the March 11 Hurlock council meeting.


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the federal government are promoting and supporting rapid expansion of 5G performance to increase data rates, reduce time lags, save energy, reduce costs, and increase system capacity and device connectivity. Some states have already passed laws forcing them onto communities. But pushbacks by citizens have reached the ears of the politicians.

In California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a Senate bill to restrict local entities’ ability to regulate the towers. The industry wants wireless everywhere with “small cell” towers every couple hundred feet apart in neighborhoods, near schools and in parks. But states and local entities want control over their placement.


There is also the question of safety. There is evidence that cell phones themselves may emit radiation; do the towers that send information to those phones as well? 5G would use microwaves and millimeter waves, which are suspected by some to harm people and nature.


Inside a small cell is radio equipment to transmit data to and from connected devices. The antennas inside the small cell are highly directional and direct attention to very specific areas around the tower.


Small cells are wireless transmitters and receivers that provide network coverage to smaller areas. Tall, high-power towers keep the network signal strong across large distances; small cells do the same job in densely developed environments. The goal of small cell technology is improving the cellular experience for end users.


Verizon, AT&T and other wireless companies see 5G as part of a “4th Industrial Revolution.” But a network has to be built to support it. Small cell technology is the key. Every network provider wants to deliver 5G as soon as possible although in reality these often do not look like the representational drawings the industry presents. Small cells are about the size of a picnic cooler or mini-fridge.


The industry believes building 200’ cell towers is not the best way to meet customer demands. It is better to go closer to the user with numerous, smaller transmitters. Small cell hardware is discrete and energy efficient. The technology is already up and running in many communities, and, says the industry, blends seamlessly with the environment.


In the March 21st issue of the Washington Post, reporter Katherine Shaver wrote that Maryland State Senate Finance Committee Chair Montgomery County Sen. Thomas M. Middleton canceled a Tuesday hearing on the bill because “it was too controversial.” He said local governments and wireless companies were “worlds apart” over how and where to allow “small-cell” technology to expand broadband capacity and install 5G … Residents also were worried about the potential health effects of cellular equipment closer to homes, he said.

Wireless companies are lobbying state lawmakers nationwide to limit the scope of local zoning laws for cell towers. The companies say they need more leeway to install equipment that will be much smaller and lower-powered but closer together and lower to the ground than the large towers that 1990s-era zoning rules were written for.


Town manager John Avery said he has information from the Maryland Municipal League and a copy of Rockville’s small cell ordinance. “I don’t see any real issues” he said and recommended adopting it as is with a few minor changes. Town attorney Robert Merriken will draft an ordinance for council review and presentation at the next council meeting.


The council unanimously approved ordinance 2019-2 to amend the mayor’s salary to become effective after the next mayoral election. The salary will be $15,000 for the first term; $18,000 for the second consecutive term and each consecutive term thereafter. The ordinance includes two provisions for educational training with a bonus of $500 for each completion.


Police Chief Les Hutton reported 579 calls for service in February. “The past two weeks we had two domestic assaults, one closed with arrest; two warrant services, and two overdoses.


Jason Trego, Hurlock Volunteer Fire Co. chief, said there are activities every weekend in April: April 6, chicken barbeques at noon; April 13, breakfast with the Easter bunny; April 21 is Good Friday and a fish fry; and April 27 is Family Bingo.


Mr. Trego explained that the county made the switch over to the Maryland 1st communications system. “At this point everything seems to be working seamlessly.” He said the scanner apps on cell phones will not work with the new system.


Opportunity Zones funded by state and federal money are areas that partner with private investment to help towns and counties further economic development. Councilman Charles Cephas noted there is only one location in Dorchester County – Cambridge. He asked, “Why is Cambridge the only Opportunity Zone in the county? They got two designations; North Dorchester got zero.” He added that the comprehensive plan for the county says that north Dorchester is the next area for growth.


Councilman Cephas said the volunteer fire department equipment is very expensive. “I never dreamed it costs that much money.” He referred to Meyersville and its 1,700 residents that received a conventional loan for $3.2 million at .2 perfent interest to build a new fire department and community center. The final cost was $6 million with money from FEMA and other organizations.


“We have to work hard to keep Hurlock from becoming a ghost town,” he said. “If we never do anything we’ll never go anywhere.”


Mayor Michael Henry called on County Councilman Lenny Pfeffer who said “I am very glad to hear the town talking about the small cell issue. Lots of lobbyists are coming to be able to put these devices on any building they want to regardless. They are even considering private property.”


Councilman Charles Cummings announced the Little League parade is slated for April 12 at 6 p.m. from the elementary school to the pavilion. Opening Day is April 13.


Town manager Avery said the town clean up is April 13 and the free pickup is April 11.


Hurlock can make the town better by doing what we’re doing – working together, said Councilman Cephas. “It’s easy to down people; it’s hard to work together. If you feel you can do a better job than this council and this mayor then run for it. It’s ok to complain but don’t just manufacture complaints.” He said the mayor, the council, and Mr. Avery will continue to work together. “They have put their hearts into making Hurlock better. Things may not operate as a fine tuned machine but we’ll get there.”


The council adjourned to a closed session to discuss the acquisition of real property on S. Main St.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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