Telephone pole dilemma continues in Dewey

By Glenn Rolfe
Posted 7/14/21

DEWEY BEACH — Featured worldwide July 12 in the Washington Post, Dewey Beach’s battle against telecom goliaths and intrusive beachfront eyesores appears to be on multiple fronts.

As …

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Telephone pole dilemma continues in Dewey

Posted

DEWEY BEACH — While Dewey Beach leaders and residents continue to work with Verizon on an acceptable solution to relocate 5G poles placed on dunes last fall, another multinational communications conglomerate has entered the picture.

“As the story unfolds, last week AT&T came in and requested three poles,” said Dewey Beach Commissioner Paul Bauer. “Two of three poles were from the same, exact streets where Verizon has their poles now (Clayton and Collins avenues) that they are moving, or that they’d like to move from. AT&T has submitted plans for three poles on the dunes. Everybody wants a pole on a dune.”

The additional pole would be put on McKinley Street.

A class-action lawsuit filed June 21 in Delaware’s Court of Chancery by Alex Pires, a prominent Dewey Beach resident and businessman, and two others, seeks a permanent injunction requiring Verizon to take down the five poles that now sit on Dewey’s beach dunes.

In response to the class-action suit, Chancery Court Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III issued a temporary restraining order, halting installation of any new 5G utility poles.

Until demands contained in the class-action suit are satisfactorily met, the “lawsuit continues,” said Mr. Pires, who is also an attorney.

“The funny part is it’s not just here, it’s everywhere,” said Commissioner Bauer. “Just the way the whole process plays out, it’s inherently clumsy to begin with. You come in and you apply for a permit to put a pole up somewhere, and engineering wants it here, and there is no coordination inside corporations that big.”

Meanwhile, Verizon has agreed to remove several of its five 5G poles.

“Everything has kind of exploded about this,” said Dewey Beach resident Dan Dionisio, chairman of SaveDeweyBeach.org, a grassroots initiative opposing pole locations on Dewey’s dunes.

“It is becoming a big national story, actually, where Dewey and what we’ve been doing is kind of like the tip of the spear — and what we’ve accomplished now with Verizon agreeing to move three of the five poles, it’s kind of giving a lot of people in the country that are dealing with the same issue a lot of hope.”

On July 2, Verizon spokesman Chris Serico announced Delmarva Power made available two existing poles, which were not available during a previous design phase, for small-cell usage in Dewey Beach.

“A current proposal would collocate small-cell antennas there,” said Mr. Serico. “And we’ll continue to research and collaborate to see if additional existing structures meet crucial safety, logistics and coverage standards for possible collocation.”

SaveDeweyBeach.org held a public protest July 5, which Mr. Dionisio termed “very successful.”

“Verizon has verbally agreed now to remove three of the five poles. They did that right before the protest in order to slow down its momentum and I was asked to cancel it due to the news, but I declined to do that, and we held it,” said Mr. Dionisio.

He said the request to cancel the protest stemmed from an Instagram post from State Sen. Ernie Lopez “announcing Verizon had verbally agreed to move the poles. But we were not willing to do that. We are now requesting them to put it in writing.”

The city is reviewing plans.

“I think Verizon has shown some willingness to move on some of their design, and engineering is looking at it,” said Mr. Bauer. “Let’s shorten this cycle so in 2029 we’re not sitting here saying, ‘How about a pole over on McKinley Street?’”

Mr. Dionisio said they are keeping the pressure on.

“AT&T sent a map saying they wanted to place three poles on the beach and we responded with a letter … that I sent to AT&T and they called the town as I requested and said they want to work with the town,” he said. “So, our sense is our pressure worked immediately as they saw what happened to Verizon.”

Mr. Dionisio said that “given any delays in Verizon or AT&T taking firm steps to address the poles on the beach, we are considering additional events but nothing to be announced now.”

“We are encouraged by the verbal commitment by Verizon to remove at least three poles, but we need a date certain and an agreement in writing,” he said.

Efforts to reach Mr. Serico for Verizon’s update on proposed pole removal were unsuccessful.

In addition, Tilson, another technology/communication company, is seeking to place poles on the beach, Mr. Dionisio said.

“So we are keeping an eye on them. Their applications were denied based on not conforming to the town ordinances,” he said.

“The early indication we are getting from AT&T is that they will withdraw the interest they showed with the map they submitted to the town to place three poles on the beach and work with the town manager (Bill Zolper) to develop more thoughtful engineering solutions. We expect Tilson to do the same.”

The goal, Commissioner Bauer said, is to work things out with an agreeable solution.

“What I’d like to see happen and hopefully we can work towards this end, is since we are a one-mile long town, isn’t there a way to just engineer what one-mile long engineering options are,” Mr. Bauer said.

“This is option A, B and C. We can have our public meetings. We can approve it and eventually work things out. But when we’re doing this piecemeal, they don’t know how they are going to engineer a total solution when you are asking for one pole at a time. It’s a never-ending cycle.”

The SaveDeweyBeach movement was born about seven weeks ago.

Mr. Dionisio said SaveDeweyBeach has:

• Launched the SaveDeweyBeach.org website that’s averaging 2,477 users per day since inception,

• Launched a Facebook page that has reached more than 700,000 interested parties and generated more than 200,000 post engagements in less than four weeks and thousands of likes,

• Generated over 600 individually signed petitions objecting to what Verizon has done with the telephone pole placement and what Tilson and now AT&T and the other wireless carriers are attempting to do. Each originally signed petition is sent to 159 email addresses across the country — state governors, media, board members and executives, environmental activists, etc.,

• Mailed a “Red Protest Card” to 912 Dewey Beach property owners explaining what has happened in Dewey Beach regarding the telephone poles, and will be doing the same for AT&T,

• Developed a database of over 10,200 interested parties as they interacted with the website, event and Facebook pages, and those who sent emails.

“We were contacted by six governor’s offices and 16 coastal towns wanting more information about what is going on in Dewey Beach with regard to the telephone pole placement,” said Mr. Dionisio.

In addition, SaveDeweyBeach will continue to develop its national video about what has occurred and will distribute it across numerous venues and social media outlets, Mr. Dionisio said. The initiative will also be launching a major TikTok and Instagram campaign targeting the younger generations.

Eventually, the carriers have to provide service, Commissioner Bauer agreed.

“I get it. No one wants a pole or a cell tower anywhere near their house. But we don’t want to stop using our phones either,” he said.

“We’re trying to strike a good balance and get something that is amenable to everybody. I look at life as you’re not going to get everything you want, but don’t get zero. It’s not always an all-or-nothing proposition. We’re trying to find some middle ground here. That’s the goal I am trying to work towards.

“Our goal isn’t to make Dewey Beach a cellphone-free area. But we want to be respectful of people’s views. Especially if you’re on the ocean block there and you’re sitting on your porch and you look at this beautiful ocean with the waves coming in — and someone puts a pole in.

“The lawsuit that Alex filed … that is still in there. People are digging their heels in. Let’s all get this whole thing worked out. Let’s let cooler heads prevail.”