The Jersey City Council has unanimously tabled an ordinance to approve the upgrade and installation of 72 utility poles which the council says will include 5G technology after members of the public spoke against the ordinance.
The critics cited a lack of transparency, lack of notice, and lack of information as well as data expressing concerns on the possible health ramifications the technology could have on residents despite the Federal Communications Commission’s ruling that the technology is safe.
Resident and registered nurse Lucille Shah said she was against 5G utility pole installation.
“My children’s bedroom faces the street, and they can potentially be sleeping just a few feet away from a 5G tower,” she said, noting that the World Health Organization has yet to issue an opinion on the possible health impacts of the technology.
She said that several European countries have halted their installation until more studies have been concluded.
Resident and former councilman Chris Gadsden said that residents have not been notified that the utility poles would be coming to their neighborhoods.
“I just want to caution and hold up on the installation of these towers because just like how we notify the community of CCTV camera installations, and different construction projects, and street paving, I just think we need to afford the public the same courtesy,” he said, saying that the new towers will primarily be installed in Ward A and Ward F, possibly near senior citizen homes and apartment complexes, without residents being made aware of it.
Resident Esther Wintner also pushed for the council to hold off on the ordinance because people were preoccupied with the current the public health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nick Strasser of the city’s law department quoted federal law stating, “No state or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate placement construction and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent such facilities comply with the commissions regulations concerning such emissions.”
“Simply put, the FCC has reviewed this and deemed the equipment in this ordinance to be safe to the public, and Congress has given the FCC exclusive jurisdiction to determine what is safe and is not and has prevented states and municipalities from individually deciding what is safe and is not from an emissions standpoint on this equipment,” he said.
Several council members voiced their frustration over seemingly having their hands tied. Council President Joyce Watterman asked Strasser whether the council could send a resolution or letter to the federal government to express their concerns.
“It’s always within the Council’s jurisdiction resolution to send a resolution to Congressmen Albio Sires and Donald Payne, and the U.S. Senators from New Jersey, to notify them of your frustration with the state of the federal law, you always have that ability,” Strasser said.
He also explained that the city still has the ability to restrict certain aspects of the installation itself.
“What you can’t do is say it is on the basis of the emissions coming from the equipment, because the FCC has already reviewed that from a safety standpoint and said that it is safe,” said Strasser. “But what the city does have the ability to do is to regulate the fees as it does in here or the engineering review of the individual towers… the city also has the ability to decide where they go from a public safety standpoint” if they are to close to fire hydrant or driveway, for example.
He added that the council can also have a say when it comes to the design of the poles, especially in historic neighborhoods, because they would have to comply with the historic requirements of any historic preservation district.
According to Business Administrator Brian Platt, the vendor will have to notify residents who are within 200 feet of a utility pole instillation site before they are installed.
That notification will include information regarding the technology’s safety.
“Council people spent the last month trying figure out what to do with this, and its bad to think the FCC is in control of what we do here in Jersey City,” said Councilman Jermaine Robinson. “I want to put people first and make sure they know exactly what’s going on here in our city.”
Council President Joyce Watterman urged members of the public to petition and write letters to their state and federal leaders expressing their concerns.
Ultimately, the council decided to table the ordinance to further explore their options after Platt noted that the council has 150 days to make a decision on the ordinance.
The ordinance will return before the council on final reading on May 20th.