Communicating about communication towers

Posted 6/7/22

UPPER DELAWARE REGION — When emergency strikes, having the ability to call for help is essential. But the importance of communication has to be measured against its impact on the surrounding …

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Communicating about communication towers


UPPER DELAWARE REGION — When emergency strikes, having the ability to call for help is essential. But the importance of communication has to be measured against its impact on the surrounding environment.

The Upper Delaware Council (UDC) debated that question at its June 2 meeting, though not before it heard about another issue of regional impact—the plight of the spongy moth.

Where—and what—to spray

The spongy moth (formerly known as gypsy moth) is an invasive species from France that was introduced in 1869. Spongy moth caterpillars feed on the young, tender leaves of trees, defoliating those trees and decreasing their resilience to disease or other insects.

Environmental agencies and private applicators can treat land for spongy moth populations with airborne sprays. Tim Dugan, the UDC’s representative from Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, updated the council on Pennsylvania’s spray program to control the pest.

Pennsylvania’s spongy moth spray program ended just before Memorial Day weekend, said Dugan. It treated around 210,000 acres of state land, approximately 10 percent of the total amount.

For most of its applications, the program used a spray containing a bacterium called BT (bacillus thuringiensis), a natural pesticide that produces spores that are toxic to insect larvae. “If you do gardening, and you get organic garden spray for caterpillars and grub control, most of the time it’s BT that you’re applying,” said Dugan.

When asked about the efficacy of BT, particularly compared to more toxic pesticides, Dugan said that BT spray had limited aims. “It’s more like a booster shot, an injection to that area, to provide a base of that BT virus there.” The program’s control level was pretty low, and it didn’t aim to eliminate the spongy moth population in an area. It aimed instead to weaken spongy moth populations enough that natural controls could take over and that trees could survive.

“[BT’s] goal is not to stop defoliation, it’s to allow tree survival,” said Dugan. “That’s sometimes hard to swallow, but that’s the level of efficacy we’re looking for—that the trees hold on to just enough [leaves] that they’re able to survive and then re-leaf out.”

Communicating along the river

Later in its meeting, the UDC revisited a conversation from the previous week’s meeting regarding cell towers in the river corridor.

The Town of Tusten had brought proposed zoning laws to the UDC project review committee on May 24 that allowed communication towers as a special use in certain areas along the river. At that time, UDC members professed uncertainty about how communication towers aligned with the River Management Plan (RMP), the document that guides development in the river corridor. It resolved to review the matter the following week, once it had time to review the relevant documentation.

In discussion on June 2, resources and land use specialist Kerry Engelhardt reported back to the UDC the results of  her investigation.

The RMP didn’t fully define the status of communication towers—cell towers as they exist today didn’t exist when it was written. In Engelhardt’s analysis, they existed somewhere between major and minor commercial development; previous UDC policy had defined them as major development and banned them along the river corridor. However, a case could be made the other way. The UDC was charged with preserving the scenic vistas of the river, said Engelhardt. It also had a duty to prevent accidents and facilitate emergency response along the river. Communication towers were a danger to the first duty, and a benefit to the second, leaving the matter in a gray space.

Engelhardt suggested that towers could be allowed under the second duty, and recommended that the UDC make a minor amendment clarifying its position about towers.

The members of the UDC weren’t prepared to make that decision at that meeting, not seeing it as the correct forum to do so. “You’re going against policy that you made public for nine years,” said Cochecton representative Larry Richardson.

The UDC approved Tusten’s proposed zoning laws without that provision, and declared an intent to discuss the question further, including potential meetings with representatives from telephone companies to see whether any projects would go forward should the UDC change its position.

spongy moth, communication towers, spray program, bacillus thuringiensis, River Management Plan


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