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5G internet antennas being installed in East GR, not everyone happy about it

Because of a state law passed in 2018, local municipalities have little say in whether or not to approve installations
Posted at 6:40 PM, Aug 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-31 18:40:25-04

EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Despite some concerns from residents in the area, 5G internet and cell antennas will soon be installed in the city.

There is currently 1 traditional cell phone tower inside East Grand Rapids, a roughly 140 foot tall tower at the high school. Over the past few years, telecommunications companies have begun updating their equipment to 5G.

A state law passed in 2018 limits local municipality's ability to deny companies the permits needed to install 5G equipment. Following it's passage, the city of East Grand Rapids got together in December of 2019 to set whatever parameters they were legally able to.

"We held a city commission meeting where we took a look at the 5G infrastructure ordinances, we took a look at what we were allowed to regulate and we regulated as strictly as we possibly could,” said Commissioner Kris Pachla.

When 5G equipment is installed, it typically consists of a small box containing the antenna, attached to an existing utility pole.

The city was able to set a number of parameters regarding what the equipment could consist of. East Grand Rapids decided that the towers that the equipment would be installed on would have to be 25 feet high or less, and the equipment box itself must be within 6 cubic feet.

“There is a checklist with all the things we can require them to do. For any permit request that comes through that meets all those, the city has to approve them per statute to the state,” Pachla told FOX 17 Monday afternoon.

If telecom companies want to install equipment in locations that do not fit the criteria set by the city, the state law says they are allowed to apply for a waiver to the rules.

Currently a company acting on behalf of Verizon is seeking waivers for an antenna on Breton Road SE and one on Berwyck Road SE.

There was a single 5G antenna installed within East Grand Rapids prior to the December 2019 meeting where the local standards were set. That tower is located on Plymouth next to the recently constructed parking lot at Spectrum Blodgett.

Future installations may therefore differ slightly in size, but should be quite indicative of what residents can expect when more are installed.

“Unfortunately, because of the statute in 2018 were not allowed to take public comment or public opinion into account as to whether we approve or disapprove those things,” Pachla said.

It leaves both the city and residents without much say in the matter.

"I do not feel alone in this fight, there are plenty of others in this community that feel upset," said Rebecca Maguire, who lives near one of the proposed antenna sites.

The company requesting the permits will next have to make the case for receiving waivers in front of the acting city manager. There is not yet a date for that meeting.

“We have to do it strictly on what the law says. If the telecom can make a case that is valid based on the checklist we have from the state, we have to approve it even if it doesn’t fit the ordinances right there,” Pachla said.

“As city elected officials, we hear the residents. We would like to be able to respond to the residents and right now really our only power to be able to respond to them is to say here is our checklist and you have to take it up with your state or federally elected officials.”