LAFARGE - About 12 citizens gathered in the basement of the LaFarge Community Building to share information and ideas for how to fight the Bug Tussel cell phone towers being built or proposed to be built in their areas. The meeting took place in LaFarge on Friday, Aug. 2.
The group will meet again at the LaFarge Community Building on August 28, 6 p.m. The event will feature a potluck meal where participants are also encouraged to bring a beverage to share.
A total of 13 towers are currently known to be planned this year for Richland County, and 17 in Vernon County. Although many say the towers will never carry controversial 5G technology, citizens remain unconvinced.
Bug Tussel is building the towers, but AT&T will have their cellular phone equipment located on the towers, as well as the transmitters for the national first responders communication network ‘First Net.” AT&T is making an aggressive effort in other markets to expand into 5G technology, and citizens fear that this round of tower building will be just the beginning.
“In order to have 5G in our area, the towers would need to be located incredibly close to each other,” Juliee de la Terre of ‘Citizens for Sane Technology told the group. “What I’m afraid of is that the Driftless Region will become a sacrifice zone for technology.”
“We need to do something because Bug Tussel is making a fool of us,” local resident Richard Hoffer said. “I can’t believe that this room isn’t filled with people. We need to protect our beautiful area and leave it better for the next generation.”
“They say that more studies are needed to determine the safety of 5G technology, but that is simply not true,” Paige Huber of Citizens for Sane Technology said. “Countries all over the world, such as Denmark, are calling for a moratorium on roll out of 5G under that precautionary principle that a new technology must be proven safe before it is adopted.”
Citizens whose homes will be in close proximity to the towers in Vernon County Town of Whitestown; Avalanche in the Town of Webster; Town of Stark where LaFarge is located; and from Richland County Town of Bloom near West Lima, discussed where the proposed towers are to be built. They also discussed their efforts to fight their construction, and their concerns about potential health and economic hazards associated with them.
Town of Stark
Lonnie and Gail Muller discussed the history of the tower that has already been built in the Town of Stark. Gail Muller is a Vernon County Board Supervisor.
“We thought we had the tower on Stark Township beat when the county returned the $3,000 permit application fee because our township had a zoning ordinance that prohibits construction of cell phone towers higher than 200 feet,” Lonnie Muller said. “Then, the next thing we knew, the Munson Tower on Maple Ridge was built and the town must have given them permission.”
Lonnie Muller told the meeting participants that he had asked for the town’s records about the process around the cell tower permit. Muller reported that “they have violated open records law for two months by not getting me that information.”
Vernon County Board supervisor Gail Muller said that she and her husband had been present at the meeting of the Vernon County Zoning Committee when the permit for the Stark Township tower was discussed.
“Bug Tussel’s Chris Henshue was there along with their CEO and their corporate attorney,” Gail Muller remembered. “Straight out of the gate the company was threatening the county with litigation if the permits were not approved.”
Town of Whitestown
Residents Ron and Donna Johnson, and Sharon Miesner and Randall Junemann, from the Town of Whitestown, shared their story about the tower that is proposed to be built just across the road from their homes.
“This tower will be built on Dutch Hollow Road, which is a rustic road,” Ron Johnson explained. “At first our neighbor who is leasing their property to Bug Tussel for the tower was going to have it built on land that was further away from our homes and closer to theirs. Then they thought better of it, and instead asked to have it built just across the road from us.”
Johnson said that at a public hearing about the proposed tower, he and a group of neighbors had proposed an alternative location for the tower on the property that would be further away from their homes.
“We calculated out the cost of the changed location at about $17,000,” Ron Johnson said. “Bug Tussel’s Chris Henshue said he would take this proposal back to the company for evaluation.”
Since then, Johnson has learned, the company has rejected the alternative location because, at a cost of $20,400, it would be “too expensive.”
“Too expensive,” Ron Johnson said. “What about the $60,000 it is going to cost me in property devaluation?”
Neighbor Randall Junemann reported that a group of neighbors had opened a line of communication with attorney Sarah Corte of LaCrosse, who is consulting a lawyer from Madison who specializes in cell tower siting disputes.
“We’ve decided to shift gears,” Junemann said.
Another public hearing was scheduled in the Town of Whitestown for Tuesday, August 30, at 7:30 p.m. But on Monday, August 5, town board chairman George Wilbur learned from Vernon County Zoning Administrator Ashley Oliphant that Bug Tussel had withdrawn their permit to build a tower in the Town of Whitestown.
Town of Webster
A neighbor of the proposed tower in Webster Township, near Avalanche on the Croell property, discussed his area’s experience with the company and the county.
“The State of Wisconsin gave the townships the option to have their own zoning or to sign onto county zoning and have the county administer it for them,” he said. “Webster Township voted to do the latter, so the county had the authority to approve the tower permit.”
He said that the county board seems to be intimidated by Bug Tussel and their threats of litigation. He said the company still has to come to the township for a driveway permit, and that process is currently stalled out because they have presented “no valid plan for access to the steep hillside property.”
Town of Harmony
Although no one was present from Harmony Township, the town’s recent history with denying Bug Tussel a permit to build a tower in the town was recounted.
As far as answering the question, “now what,” town zoning committee member Jim Theler reports, in an interview with the Independent-Scout, that they have heard nothing more from Bug Tussel or the county.
“The town thinks that the county erred when they approved the permit for our township because we have comprehensive planning and zoning,” Theler said. “And one of the biggest problems with Act 20, which takes away local control in cell tower siting decisions, is that it makes no mention of loss in neighbors property values.”
He said that he feels that the town zoning committee and board “did what the citizens of the township wanted us to do.” He said that he had been told that if he was upset about loss of local control from state legislation, he should contact his state representative.
“The problem is that I am represented by Loren Oldenburg in the State Assembly,” Theler said. “And now I have been told by Chris Henshue of Bug Tussel that Oldenburg has entered into a lease to have a tower built on his property.”
Loren Oldenburg, in an interview with the Independent-Scout confirmed that he has a lease to have a tower built on his property in Harmony Township.
“I primarily see it as a public safety issue,” Oldenburg said. “I had a friend who had a logging accident, and the only thing that saved his life was his ability to reach 911.”
Oldenburg says the tower on his property will be located in an area that will not be near anyone’s home.
“I’m not quite sure what the legislature was thinking in 2013 when they passed Act 20 taking away local control in cell tower siting decisions,” Oldenburg said. “What I think is needed is a modified approach which allows communities to have input to ensure that the towers will not be placed near residences. And we need more dialogue around this issue with our first responders to understand what their needs are.”
Town of Bloom
Julie de la Terre of West Lima is working with a group of 37 of her neighbors to fight the tower that is proposed to be built essentially in her back yard. They have formed a group called ‘Citizens for Sane Technology.’
“We took our concerns to the Richland County Zoning Committee, but unlike Vernon County, their process does not allow for public input,” de la Terre explained. “All local control has been removed by the State of Wisconsin, and the counties and townships feel that they have no choice but to approve the permits.”
De la Terre told the group that she is working with an attorney out of Viroqua, and they will file an injunction against the West Lima tower in Richland County Circuit Court this week.
“This is about community rights and about having a say in what happens in our own backyards,” de la Terre said. “What we have to do is work with our local governments to pass ordinances that help us to reclaim local control. This nation was built on the concept of home rule.”
What to do next?
The group held a brainstorming session about what they could do next. The brainstorm yielded the following ideas:
• engage in a public relations campaign to increase awareness and educate the public about the potential health risks;
• write letters to the editor of local newspapers;
• write letters to your town and county government representatives;
• focus on the issue of land values – “their initiative in this area makes local property owners captive investors in their business venture;”
• open a line of communication with the first responder community, some of whom believe that the First Net network is necessary to promote public safety;
• attend the meeting of the Vernon County Zoning Committee on August 15, 9 a.m., in the County Board Meeting Room at the Courthouse, where the permit for the proposed Town of Wheatland tower will be discussed and voted upon;
• attend the Richland County Zoning Committee’s public input meeting when the date, time and location are announced by the Richland County Board chairman;• invite elected state, county and board representatives to the next meeting to hear citizen concerns and answer citizen questions.