WOBURN – The City Council last night granted Verizon Wireless permission to attach a new small-cell antenna to a utility pole on New Boston Street, but not before hinging the approval upon the company’s provision of a favorable structural integrity report.
During a regular meeting in City Hall on Tuesday, the aldermen voted unanimously in favor of issuing a grant-of-location to Verizon parent company Cellco Partnership to attach a side-mounted canister antenna in the industrial zone.
The utility pole in question is situated along the right-of-way by 155 New Boston St. Currently, there are no sidewalks in the vicinity of the infrastructure, which is located in close proximity to NuPath’s headquarters by Gill Street.
Representing the petitioner was McLane Middleton attorney Victor Manougian, who argued his client needed to the new wireless array in order to plug a significant coverage gap, or area where cell-phone service customers either drop calls or have poor signal strength.
“Tonight I appear before you for another grant-of-location for a small-cell antenna installation that will go on an existing pole. This is a side-mount attachment, so the pole height will not increase at all,” said the lawyer.
Under the federal 1996 Telecommunications Act, municipalities can’t block service providers like Verizon from installing new wireless communications equipment, if that infrastructure is needed in order to plug substantial holes in signal coverage.
A more recent Sept. of 2018 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order, issued in regards to so-called next generation 5G wireless networks, further eroded the little power municipalities had to regulate the placement of such installations on utility poles and along local roadways.
However, the new FCC rules make clear that cities and towns can demand proof that existing poles and similar free-standing structures can safely accommodate the extra equipment.
Informed the current proposal might involve a compromised utility pole, Ward 2 Alderman Richard Gately and others on the council questioned whether the infrastructure needed to be replaced.
“Have you personally looked at that pole or had an engineer take a look at it?” asked Gately.
In raising those concerns, the aldermen referenced a communication sent to the council last week from the DPW superintendent, in which the public safety manager questioned whether the utility pole in question was able to safety accommodate any new equipment.
“Based upon my observation, the pole appears to have some structural issues and should have
a structural engineer perform an analysis to evaluate its structural integrity,” Duran remarked in his Aug. 28 memo.
“In addition, if the City Council decides to grant approval on this petition, I recommend that an as-build be submitted to the Engineering Department, the DPW and the City Clerk’s office to confirm that all equipment has been set at the proper elevations to prevent any injuries that may occur to pedestrian travel,” he subsequently concluded.
According to Manougian, he personally drove past the New Boston Street location to check on the pole. Explaining the proposed canister antenna weighs roughly 20 pounds, he pointed out that the structure currently has no transformers or other heavy equipment mounted to it. The Manchester, N.H. lawyer later argued that the owners of the utility pole – Eversource Energy and Verizon’s landline and cable television entity – had both certified the infrastructure as safe.
“I did take a look myself and to me, the pole looks okay,” said Manougian. “The pole only has wires on it, so there are no electrical transformers which weighs hundreds of pounds.”
Alderman at-large Michael Concannon was unsatisfied with that response and argued the petitioner should be required to prove the equipment can be safely mounted.
“So we have an opinion from our city engineer that the pole might have structural issues. He’s requesting some type of analysis,” he said.
In a compromise, Ward 5 Alderman Darlene Mercer-Bruen suggested the council authorize the grant-of-location petition, but condition that approval upon the submission of engineering reports that satisfy the concerns of the city’s DPW and engineering departments.
Mercer-Bruen’s alternative, which satisfied her colleagues’ concerns, allows the city to ensure the safety of the equipment without having to worry about running afoul of new FCC-mandated “shotclocks” or 60-to-90 day windows within which a wireless facility application must be acted upon.