According to Verizon Wireless’ federal complaint against Camden County and its board of commissioners, the telecommunications company and those acting on its behalf did everything they were supposed to do to facilitate the construction of a 199-foot telecom tower off Harriets Bluff Road.
Instead, the county commissioners voted unanimously to put the kibosh on those plans, and in doing so Verizon’s lawyer argues the county broke federal law.
The proposed tower’s location is in an area northeast of the intersection of Harriets Bluff Road and Proctor Drive, where Verizon states the lack of overlapping tower coverage makes it hard for residents and visitors to that area of the county to receive a wireless signal indoors, and leaves the Elliotts Bluff site with having to handle more capacity than it should.
The county planning commission gave initial approval to the project, and it came up for a vote Dec. 3 and the county board of commissioners meeting. According to the complaint, a Verizon representative “presented substantial evidence showing how the Sadlers Landing site would fit into the existing network of Verizon Wireless telecommunications sites in the area,” “was the only site available that would provide coverage needed to develop the network and close a significant gap in coverage and capacity” and “needed to relieve capacity congestion on the existing telecommunications sites.”
Verizon argues that the four local residents who spoke against the project “gave subjective and unsubstantiated opinions” regarding radio frequency emissions and “negative impacts on the landscape,” but that the county isn’t allowed to regulate the placement of telecom structures based on “environmental and health effects of radio frequency emissions.”
Indeed, the federal law cited states, “No state or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the (Federal Communications Commission)’s regulations concerning such emissions.”
The general idea of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, as cited in the lawsuit, is to remove barriers to wireless services expansion, to the point of also preventing those barriers.
The law states, “The regulation of the placement, construction and modification of personal wireless services facilities by any state or local government or instrumentality thereof (I) shall not unreasonably discriminate among providers of functionally equivalent services and (II) shall not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the provision of personal wireless services.”
Not only does Verizon argue the company, by satisfying all the regulatory requirements, should have received permission to build the tower, it suggests the county’s denial was deficient because it didn’t — as also required by law — provide substantial evidence in a written record as to why the permit should be denied.
According to the complaint, the extent to which the denial was explained was a Dec. 4 letter from the Camden County Office of Planning and Development that stated the commissioners denied the special use permit because of “the impact of the proposed tower upon the scenic views and visual quality of the surrounding area.”
The county had not filed an answer to the complaint as of press time Monday.