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Controversial cell tower refused

An application to erect a mobile cell tower in Devonshire has been refused by Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy following an appeal.

The plans, submitted by Digicel, proposed placing a movable cell site on wheels at 49 South Road, which would include a 65-foot antenna capable of extending to 100 feet to improve cell coverage in the area.

The proposal garnered about 230 objections from members of the public who expressed concerns about the potential health hazards of the proposal, but the telecommunications company said the tower was well within the US guidelines adopted in Bermuda.

The proposal was approved by the Development Applications Board in August but Mr Fahy upheld an appeal against the decision this month, citing the recommendations of an independent planning inspector.

In the report, dated December 3, the inspector accepted that the radio frequency (RF) exposure would be 130 times lower than limits set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and that the Department of Health was correct to use US standards. However, the inspector also said Digicel had failed to provide evidence that co-location on other nearby towers was not possible.

“The Planning Guidance note 114 requires the applicant to provide written reasons why co-location is not possible and provide details of capacity and willingness to permit co-location on the new tower,” the inspector wrote.

“From the information provided to me, I can find no evidence that this requirement was met,” the inspector said.

“There is also the requirement for the applicant to justify the existence of the board's discretion.

“I can find no clear argued case justifying the need for the tower and I note the press statements supplied by the appellant indicating that this tower may not be required following the review of the spectrum allocations.

“However at this stage, this is speculative and cannot be taken into account.”

On the subject of the health concerns expressed by objectors, the inspector wrote: “Data provided by the applicant indicates that in this location, 208 feet from the nearest residence, the RF power density would be 130 times less than the limits specified by the FCC and would even be below the precautionary levels adopted in Italy for schools' playgrounds and near homes.

“The appellant suggests that Bermuda should not simply adopt regulations from other jurisdictions but should do its own due diligence.

“It would be, in my opinion, unrealistic for a small country like Bermuda to set its own standards on complex technical matters such as this.

“It's entirely appropriate for the Director of Health to rely on standards set elsewhere.

“The Department of Health has chosen to use a standard from the United States, and the data suggests that this particular tower comes nowhere near breaching the limits.

“Even if a more onerous standard were applied, it would still be considered to be with in acceptable limits.”

The inspector also noted that the matter of over-intensification of cell towers was a legitimate one and should be looked at, but that the application could only be looked at in the context of the information already available.

Regarding concerns that the project would negatively affect property values, she wrote that it was not the responsibility of the DAB to investigate such assertions.

Due to the lack of information about co-location, the inspector recommended that the appeal be upheld and the planning application refused.

She further recommended that the applicant be advised to resubmit the application with the appropriate information.

In an Appeal Decision letter dated the following day, Mr Fahy refused planning permission for the cell tower, citing insufficient information to demonstrate that every effort had been made to utilise or share existing structures, and that the applicant had failed to provide grounds in support of the application to justify the use of discretion in the matter.

Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy (File photo by Nicola Muirhead)

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Published December 20, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated December 20, 2014 at 7:34 am)

Controversial cell tower refused

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