A coalition of 10 New York environmental and historic preservation organizations yesterday urged the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) not to take away the rights of state and local governments to regulate the size, shape and visibility of communications towers – especially in scenic and historically significant areas.
The groups sent a joint letter to the FCC, urging federal officials to recognize that scenic beauty and historic significance are the backbone of local tourism. They asked the FCC to reject the notion that expansions of 10 percent or more in the height or width of cell towers would have no impact on the environment or historic preservation.
The proposed rule would grant FCC the authority to require state and local governments to step aside if a proposed expansion of an existing communications tower meets certain criteria, regardless of location or state and local laws. The new rule is little known to the public, since it was buried deep in an unrelated piece of federal legislation: the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. The groups asked the FCC to take this into consideration when determining how it would interpret and enforce the new law.
Signing on to the letter were the Adirondack Council, Adirondack Mountain Club, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Mohawk-Hudson Land Conservancy, NY Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), Parks & Trails New York, the Preservation League of New York, Protect the Adirondacks, Scenic Hudson and Sierra Club, Atlantic Chapter.
The letter to the FCC states:
The undersigned organizations are deeply concerned that the FCC has proposed a new rule to exempt the expansion of cell towers and other communications towers from all local and state review. This would destroy more than a decade of excellent work done by local and state officials, whose actions and ordinances have in many locations protected New York’s most scenic landscapes and most important historic sites from highly visible cell towers and other communications structures.
It would also disenfranchise local citizens, who have a right to provide guidance to their appointed and elected officials as they determine how cell towers and other communications structures should be sited and expanded in their own communities. The FCC can encourage speedy deliberations and deployment of new communications technology without abolishing state and local jurisdiction over modifications to the size and shape of towers.
The proposed rule, for which you are accepting comments through Feb. 3, 2014, would prohibit local planning boards and state regulators from having any input on decisions that will shape the environment and economy of New York’s communities. They would not be allowed to consider alternatives or deny requests to increase the height and visibility of any existing cell tower. No exceptions.
Changes in height, construction materials and equipment configuration would be exempt from all local and state review, as long as the modification doesn’t “substantially change” the dimensions of the current structure. Further clouding the issue, the term “substantially change” is not clearly defined. In the absence of a definition, the FCC is considering using a 2009 FCC Declaratory Ruling that could require automatic approval of expansions of 10 percent — or more under certain circumstances.
“A loosening of rules for siting of new towers, expansion of current towers and collocation of additional equipment on existing towers would harm both the scenic beauty and the local economy,” a press release issued by the Adirondack Council said. “In many areas of New York, tourism is the top economic engine. People in those places have invested enormous time and capital in their zoning and planning efforts to protect the visual appeal of their communities. They should not be subjected to unwanted intrusions from communications towers,” the release said.
Photo of cell and communication towers on Prospect Mountain in the Adirondacks by John Warren.