By David Yarger
On Monday night, the Town of Wheatfield Town Board held its first meeting of April. Prior to the meeting, the board held a public hearing regarding a proposed telecommunications law in the town.
The hearing discussed a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission on proposed small cell units that are installed on poles 50 feet or less in height.
The federal government passed a law as of January, which now says towns can regulate the installation of the box-like structures, but limits how towns can regulate it.
A nine-page law was created by the town that now determines how the structures can be placed in the town. The law requests the units go on existing structures throughout the town to help improve cellular service.
If a new pole had to be installed, the law states there would be regulations that it must be installed a certain way, look a certain way and have site plan approval.
Drew Riley of Wendel Engineers said, “These are going to need to be in place, because whether it’s six months from now or a year from now, this is the new ways of technology that’s coming. A lot it is for 5G, but some it serves for 4G networks. These are things to help people get better reception on all their devices.”
Additionally, the small cell structures, as Councilman Larry Helwig called it, “look like breadboxes.”
The structures are a smaller alternative to cell towers and can expand the capabilities of wireless networks.
In regard to placing the 5G small cell units on existing poles in the town’s right of way, Highway Superintendent Paul Siegmann questioned if the town could tell the government they cannot put the unit on a road right of way.
Riley replied, “If it’s in your right of way, you have the ability to negotiate that and you can actually say no. That’s my understanding, but please (consult) your town attorney. This is a brand-new law. It’s going to be tested by the courts of where you can say no and not say no. My understanding is they will come and negotiate. They’ve already done this in other communities, and they couldn’t reach deals to put those (units) in the community’s right of way, so then they went to their alternative and went to different locations for those. Again, you could say ‘no’ through the negotiation of your deal with them.”
Siegmann then said he’d rather not see the units on the town right of ways, and there’s “already enough stuff going on there as it is.”
Riley added that the proposed law with the town and government regarding the units would give the town an advantage, because, if the government came to town asking to put the units in on certain poles after 90-120 days, the town would be prepared to try and strike a deal to place them elsewhere, if the town felt that need. This also gives the town a chance to determine what the government feels is best from an aesthetic standpoint.
Councilman Randy Retzlaff asked if an easement would have to be reached with National Grid to install the units on the poles, and the answer was “yes.”
In regard to fee structure, which would post a cost for the installation of the units, a resident said he felt there should be no fee structure, because it could directly affect the service that residents receive from the antenna units. The resident added that the costs, in his opinion, would come back to the consumers directly as a cost for phone service.
The town has the choice to install a fee structure for the small cell installation. If an installation would need a site plan review, the fee structure would cover administration fees.
Councilman Curt Doktor said this law could possibly come into play five to 10 years from now, so the town is just trying to get the ball rolling. If someone does approach the town, “We have some structure.”
The nine-page law is available in the town clerk’s office at Wheatfield Town Hall for the public to read.
The Town Board will discuss the proposed law over the next two weeks and could approve it at the April 15 meeting.
In other news:
•The Town Board announced the retirement of Chief Constable Robin Zastrow. The board then promoted Constable Roger A. Thompson to the position. Of the promotion, MacSwan said, “Welcome, Roger. Congratulations.”
•The board scheduled a public hearing regarding a new local law to amend and update the powers and duties of the Constable Department. The hearing starts at 7 p.m. May 6.
•The board authorized the Town of Wheatfield to provide diesel fuel and gasoline to the Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District during the summer, while the district’s fuel tank system undergoes construction. The town will issue fuel cards to the district in order to monitor the fuel consumption, and, thereafter, the town will bill the district on a periodic basis.
•The town announced Wheatfield Comprehensive Planning Implementation Task Force Chairman Richard Muscatello resigned. Doktor was promoted to the position.
•Recreation Director Mike Ranalli announced the town’s Easter party will run from 10 a.m. to noon on April 13 at the youth center, 2795 Church Road. For more information, call 504-1273.
•The next Town of Wheatfield Town Board meeting is at 7 p.m. April 15.