The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 18, 2005


Cell tower déjà vu

Carlisle has been debating about cell towers since 1999. Since then, cell phone use has soared, notorious dead spots in the town center and elsewhere frustrate users, but still the town has no towers. A tower on private property on Bedford Road has been approved, but construction has not begun. Towers on town-owned land would bring relief to users as well as welcome rental income to the town from telecom carriers — conservative estimates are $60,000 per tower per year.

The town's unfriendliness toward cell towers appears rooted in our rural character. No one wants a gargantuan, unsightly tower bristling with metal arms spoiling our scenic byways, but there are alternatives. "Stealth monopoles," such as the giant flagpole at the Route 2 Mobil station, can conceal antennas. Cell towers can be made to look like pine trees that would fit nicely into our woodsy environment. They can be installed in church steeples and placed on top of public buildings.

Safety concerns have also kept cell towers at bay. Parents' concerns over radio-frequency emissions from a possible tower at the Carlisle School, which is advantageously located on a hill, are entirely understandable, but so far no studies have proven that health risks exist. Local experts in tower design point out that signals emanating from a high tower atop a school building would be dispersed horizontally, not downward, thus minimizing exposure to humans.

Last week's Mosquito reported that a consultant from Broadcast Signal Lab had been hired to study cell tower siting in the town center ("Wireless Advisory Committee hires consultant David Maxson"). The new study will focus on the school and other potential sites in the center, analyzing and comparing their efficiency and safety.

Flashback to June 2003, when a comprehensive report, also from Broadcast Signal Lab, on wireless facility demands in Carlisle was delivered to the Planning Board. (It can be found at It recommended four cell towers, including a roof-top pole at the Carlisle Public School. How many more studies do we need before even one tower is approved on town-owned land? It should be said that the new study could cost close to $10,000.

The town's 1999 bylaw stipulating a 900-foot setback for cell towers was ruled unnecessarily restrictive in court. At its last meeting on October 28, the Wireless Bylaw Committee asked Broadcast Signal Lab, in addition to analyzing town center sites, to suggest changes to the law, reducing the setback while still considering the town's environmental concerns. After six years of delay, it's time to make cell towers a priority, before Carlisle loses the ability to determine their placement. The recent flurry of activity is a positive signal that change is in the air.

Fight the fatigue

It's been an emotionally exhausting year for a world beset with unusual natural disasters as well as some especially horrific and fiendishly purposeful ones. Donor fatigue is just one symptom, but it's a critical one.

From the tsunami last December, through mudslides, tornados, and a particularly deadly hurricane season, to deadly earthquakes in Iran and Pakistan; from the London terror bombings to the recent attacks in Jordan (and, in my estimation, the oil price hikes and the incredible profits of Big Oil) — organizations and governments dealing with the recovery from these disasters are reeling. Tax bases are damaged or destroyed. Jobs and businesses have evaporated. Many charitable groups that provide relief have received record donations, but are issuing urgent calls for still more funds to continue the work — and to be ready for a winter with unprecedented fuel prices. Individual checkbooks are strained, too.

I've found a way to give, that for me anyway, is far more meaningful than check writing. Having written a big one after Hurricane Katrina, I was still restless and upset that I couldn't do more for people in my own country. Every day, I woke to the still-fresh astonishment that it had happened. I heard on a call-in radio show about a local group of volunteers who'd gone through the same hand-wringing and decided they couldn't wait.

I've been working ever since with this Citizen Action Team. At the core of our work is a publicly accessible database of people and all kinds of organizations that need things, along with the warehouses and centers in the Gulf region that distribute items. Through e-mail and lots of phone calls, we stay in touch with individuals, organizations, schools, and others in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, and Florida. Then we collect what's actually needed. Our motto: delivering supplies that aren't needed is way worse than delivering nothing.

Why? Because in the two weeks following Katrina, the coast was flooded not only with water, but with used clothing. Apparently, the first thing most of us Americans think of sending when material supplies are needed is clothes. The relief people on the ground begged contributors to stop sending it. There was no place to put it all and there were already mountains aplenty of trash. What people really needed was ice, cleaning supplies, and places to eat and sleep.

Since then, in response to requests, we've been collecting textbooks, reading books, all manner of household goods, school and art supplies, and toiletries. Carlisle, by the way, has been amazingly generous. Recently, we've collected coats, jackets, and sleeping bags (yes, there are still thousands sleeping outside). Sure enough, tucked between the coats, we found still more of that unneeded commodity, used clothes, some in good condition, some decidedly not. (If you've donated good clothing, don't worry that it will go for naught; we'll make sure it gets to Massachusetts groups who can use it.) Now, when we're asked whether something is appropriate to donate, I have another motto: give, don't just get rid of. And this: charity begins at home — but this season, not in the clothes closet.

There is no end in sight to the needs, on our own Gulf coast and in Pakistan and Central America. Soon we'll start collecting food for the hurricane zone. We'll approach businesses for help. And I will be calling on you again, Carlisle. Thanks.


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2005 The Carlisle Mosquito