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Residents in the area of McDonell Catholic Central High School in Chippewa Falls received a surprise when they got notice of a public hearing April 11 about a new cell tower going up just feet from some of their houses on Bel Air Boulevard.

In January, Verizon Wireless contacted MACS about constructing a cell site on the school’s property to increase coverage on the city’s West Hill.

After searching several sites in the area, Verizon spokesperson Steven Van Dinter said they chose the McDonell site because it had the optimal coverage in their search ring — an area the structure needs to be to meet radio frequency engineering requirements.

Carling Febry was one of a dozen concerned neighbors who attended the Chippewa Falls Plan Commission meeting to voice her concerns about the multi-tenant cell site.

Dorothy Meehan, whose property is at the edge of the tower’s proposed location at 1316 Bel Air Blvd., said she worries about long-term effects of radiation on children and families who go to school and live in the area.

Like Meehan, Febry worries about radiation as well as aesthetics and home values that could change with the construction. However, what really stuck out to her was how little power the community had over the decision.

“People will debate those things forever, but to me what isn’t debatable is how effective McDonell appropriately informed not only the residents, but the entire community,” Febry said. “I don’t believe we’re progressing in the right direction when a cell phone company seems to have a lot of say, maybe even more than a community and its elected officials. It raises concerns of our autonomy as a city to make those decisions.”

According to the January minutes of the MACS Education Commission, members discussed distributing 50 fliers to homes in the area affected by the tower to let them know of a public hearing the school would hold on January 19. No one attended that meeting, and they signed a lease with Verizon Wireless shortly after.

Meehan, Febry and several other neighbors commented at the meeting they never received such a flier. Most had heard of the cell site via the city’s public meeting notice or a news outlet.

In an email to the Chippewa Herald, Cathy Greenseth, MACS director of communications and marketing, said the site will increase Verizon’s service and coverage in the area, something especially necessary with the low reception in the schools.

As far as the fliers go, she apologized for the miscommunication but said they were under no legal obligation.

“We are sorry,” Greenseth said in the email. “This was a personal distribution of a flier at the houses to insure everyone was reached. We were not obligated to give any kind of a notice but wanted to be good neighbors.”

The plan commission voted 5-4 to approve the Resolution for Conditional Use Permit for “a multi-tenant communication tower and supporting equipment” at the April 11 meeting.

Rick Rubenzer, director of public works, said there was a lot of frustration with both residents and committee members.

Wis. State Statute 66.0404 was put into effect in 2013, and it limits a municipality’s jurisdiction over where a company can place a tower. The statute states political subdivisions (in this case, Chippewa Falls) cannot create an ordinance prohibiting cell phone towers, nor can they deny applications for them based solely on aesthetics, location or height concerns.

With the law, they don’t even have the jurisdiction to move the tower 100 or so feet.

“It was really frustrating to have the people come to make comments and then not be able to do anything for them,” Rubenzer said. “It takes all the power out of local authority.”

At the April 19 City Council meeting, Mayor Greg Hoffman reflected similar sentiments when they brought up the topic again.

However, he said if they denied the application, the law would give Verizon the power to bring the city to Wisconsin circuit court, where he thought they’d lose.

“I understand there was a reason the state created (the law) and it wasn’t to punish Chippewa Falls, but our city is being affected by this,” Hoffman said. “Now we’re going to have a one-size-fits-all law we have to live by. To me, this should be a local topic.”

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(10) comments

Enlightenment

It'd be interesting to see who is behind the legislation that strips the public input and concerns of where a cell tower is placed. Also, it appears that the planning department needs to update their guidelines to counter the 2013 legislation and allow public input on land use changes in their neighborhood. Does the planning commission not send out notifications to residents about land use changes being proposed in their neighborhoods (i.e. within 500 ft of the subject site)? If not, they should. Besides, I've been to numerous commission meetings in other communities and have seen denial of cell site applications for various reasons in order to protect the integrity, safety, and value of surrounding land, why can't Chippewa do it?

Alan_Shroe

Follow the money. Who in MACS works for or is contracted with Verizon. Ill bet a ham sandwich that the site was not picked for its reception circle but for its ability to give money to the MACS and get their tower. There is a water tower just a few hundred yards from McDonell that would work as good or better yet they choose this parking lot. Something is going on behind the scenes and there is nothing the residents of Chippewa Falls can do. Sorry guys, profit over common sense.

Gustav

"We were not obligated to give any kind of a notice but wanted to be good neighbors.” Sorry, but "good neighbors" don't pull this crap on their neighbors.

"In an email to the Chippewa Herald, Cathy Greenseth, MACS director of communications and marketing, said the site will increase Verizon’s service and coverage in the area, something especially necessary with the low reception in the schools." Why do we need better reception for cell phones in a school? So the the students can be even MORE distracted from their learning? Basically this reeks of the "we'll do anything for a buck" mentality of the Catholic church.

Onlyonecomment

MACS owns the land. Let's start with that concept. Why should they not enter into an agreement that they can profit from? It is really annoying to watch other people complain or try to control how other people use their land. That is what general zoning and ordinances are for; so that you look at those things fairly and then see if they fit your plan, and not on a case by case, I don't like your project vote. I don't understand the four nimwits that voted against it really. It either fits the ordinance or it doesn't. You can't just vote no because you are against somebody else making money. That kind of decision making, if you received one more vote, would result in a Court action overturning your arbitrary decision and cost the county money because you don't have a clue how the law works. You want to make a case that it is a nuisance? Fine, make your case. You want to do more then just claim it causes cancer and actually prove it? Fine, do it. I don't happen to like it when people choose bright yellow for a garage door color, but it is their land. Also, to me a water tower is annoying. Some people like it. Mind your own business.
Although I am certainly not a troll who looks for controversy, I do expect some different opinions to be pointed at me on this one.

OKOKOKOK

If the radio waves just stayed on the MACS property there wouldn't be a problem with your very limited view, they don't and they do cause health problems for those living in close proximity to the tower. Locally the city and residents have no power to do anything because of our "Small Government" (HAHAHAHAHA) Tea BaKKKers in Madison have taken away our rights to deal with and negotiate with facilities such as this. We have all lost and the corporations have won.

Onlyonecomment

It is worthless to deal with this every time you want to put a cell tower up. There are thousands in the State and the public by and large has decided it is a “need”. You can either be on the side of the American Cancer Society which states there is no threat, or you can put your tin foil hat on and believe the conspiracy theory people like OKOK, that think because you say something is a problem it must be. The science indicates that even if those evil waves cause a problem, the TV antennas kick off much more, and there has been no problem with over 40 years of research.
That is the whole point. Why have to make this argument over and over to small-minded people who won’t listen anyway? I believe in small government, but for the most part that means less Federal intrusion. Issues like this are definitely better only having to prove the “science” once. That is what our State did. We decided the science proves no safety problems. We felt that cell towers were needed, and society would benefit as a whole limiting the multiple NIMBY arguments. I have no problem with that. Even if I did, I would address it at the State level and try to use my junk science to change their minds.
Back to my point about the people that voted against the application. It may feel good, you may be making tin foil voters happy, but you are simply not doing your job. You have no authority to deny this application. There is no ambiguity. The State law is clear. Had the no votes won out it, would have cost attorney fees and the City would have lost. Unless you have no common sense and cannot realize this, what gives you the right to vote to cost the MACS, the cell tower, and the taxpayers money, just because you want to get reelected to some small town job by keeping people with no common sense happy? It is clear that I will research and remember the four no votes that almost cost me money as a taxpayer. I get that it feels good that some people voted you in and gave you some feeling that you have power to vote no just because you can. I used to remember a guy that would vote nay on the motion to adjourn every time. At least he had a sense of humor.
I am just curious if any one of them can justify on what basis they voted no?

show you around-my town

The size of the tower would be a good indication who will benefit from it [innocent]

TricoSpinner

Ask me how I know none of you understand how cell phone towers work.

4therecord

Fact: cell towers emit microwaves aka electromagnetic/radio frequency radiation.
Fact: radiation from cell towers meet safety reg. guidelines set by the FCC.
Fact: these fcc guidelines were set in 1996 using an older study showing what thermal effects take place during 30 min of microwave radiation exposure in an adult. Non-thermal effects were not considered nor were the long term and constant exposure to our children. Most kids in Chippewa falls go to one of the 4 schools where this tower will be. Would we allow things like lead, gas fumes, diesel fuel, pesticides, chloroform,ddt etc., dumped in our schools? No of course not. These are class 2b carcinogens but so is the radiation coming from cell towers. Non-thermal effects from these towers especially to our kids is disturbing. Children absorb the radiation much deeper and much more than an adult ,destabilizing immune and metabolic function, the ability to learn and remember, headaches, fatigue, sleep disorders,depression, irritability, dizziness ,also oxidative stress, damaged DNA and yes cancer... the list is long.
I would have hoped that a school of all places not only would have taken the time and researched the heck out of this, but then would have notified the other 3 schools,parents and community. Shame on you McDonell.

ReelBuilder

It's those darn Catholics teaming up with Walker!

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