PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A local resident's fight against the installation of a 115-foot cell tower off South Street was referenced on Beacon Hill on Monday during testimony on two bills relating to health and wireless transmissions.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Pittsfield resident Courtney Gilardi, among others, testified at the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure's hearing about two related bills sponsored by state Sen. Julian Cyr of Hyannis: S.186, which would create a commission to research the impact of electromagnetic (EMR) and radiofrequency (RFR) radiation, and S.187, which would require RFR warnings on the use of cell phones, particularly in regard to children.
"We have a very, very strong local interest in this bill, and when I say local it's specific to my neighborhood," Farley-Bouvier told to the committee.
"We had at the very beginning of COVID, a new tower being placed just a few 100 feet from here, from my home, without notification, there are significant health issues happening in the neighborhood and, when I say frustration from this neighborhood, not being able to, to really get answers from city or state officials, I'm not kidding. ... there is no place to go."
The Pittsfield representative, a member of the joint committee, cited past mistakes made in public health, such as the tobacco industry denying the harmful effects of smoking and, locally, the dangers of polychlorinated biphenyls, being downplayed.
"Is this a crazy thing that people are saying that they're sick from their cell phones? Well I don't think so, that's not what we're hearing," she said during the virtual hearing. "And you know, we didn't pay attention decades ago, when the tobacco industry told us we were crazy that tobacco was harmful, and we thought people were crazy, the industry told us we were crazy when we were told that PCBs were harmful, but we know that to be true now."
She added that as elected officials, she feels it is their job to get answers about the effects of cell towers and do research independent of the wireless industry.
Gilardi, a resident of Alma Street who is living elsewhere because of the cell tower, gave an emotional testimony at the meeting. Since the tower was installed in August 2020 without what opponents say was proper abutter notification, she has been advocating for its removal.
"We are asking for consumer protections for wireless health and we are asking for them now," she said, and detailed some of the health issues her family and neighbors have had to deal with.
On Wednesday, Gilardi told the Board of Health about her testimony and that she realized "that it was the first time in seven months that we actually slept in real beds, not mattresses on the floor. It was the first time in seven months we were able to take a hot shower before going to sleep at night, as where we stay does not have the plumbing to do so. ...
"I have a home, I have a beautiful home, my kids have a home, my neighbors have a home, and we all have the hopes of returning."
The 115-foot Verizon tower was constructed in August 2020 after the company received permitting from the Zoning Board of Appeals in 2017. Neighbors surrounding the tower say they did not receive proper abutter notice beforehand. The address was a large parcel that abutted the densely populated neighborhood on the north end but only neighbors on the south end were notified.
Interim Director of Public Health Andrew Cambi and Board of Health member Brad Gordon said on Wednesday that they had spoken virtually with Verizon representatives last month to discuss options for the tower.
They asked the company if it would consider turning off the antennaes or relocating it. Verizon did not take the considerations off the table but was said it would be "unlikely" for that to happen, they reported.
The board discussed compiling other possible tower locations to present to the company in hopes of sparking some kind of agreement that works for both entities. Gordon proposed that the Health Department formally submits alternative sites for the tower to Verizon for them to consider.
Cambi said he and Gordon had pushed for a solution soon as possible when they met with Verizon because at least one family, Gilardi's, has been displaced. They said they framed the proposal as a way to make the community feel good about having the company in the area. Gordon thought the "good business" angle was a strong one but didn't believe the city has much in the way of legal leverage.
"We were very direct, we said, 'what is the possibility of moving the tower,' and they didn't take that off the table, but they also said that it was unlikely," Gordon reported from the correspondence with Verizon.
Verizon has not agreed to another meeting with the BOH representatives. In the meantime, the wireless company said it would be doing an independent study to measure frequencies coming from the tower.
The board also signed a letter advocating for the wireless safety bills discussed on Monday and Cambi sent out a personal letter over email in support of the bills.
In other news, the board welcomed former member Bobbie Orsi back to the panel.
Cambi also gave an update on the search for the next director of public health, as former director Gina Armstrong resigned last month. Four candidates have applied for the position and will go through a reviewing process though a timeline has not been set.
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PITTSFIELD, Mass — Berkshire Community College (BCC) recently released its enrollment data for fall 2021 — a season still impacted by COVID-19, but with a growing number of first-year and continuing students.
Key findings include:
Overall enrollment is up 1.4 percent over 2020
The first-year student population is up 16.4 percent
Continuing students are up 3.9 percent
Full-time equivalent (FTE) students are down 1.2 percent
Readmitted students (those who leave college for less than a year and reapply) are down 27.27 percent
The number of non-degree-seeking students has also grown, largely due to BCC's Early College program, which offers up to 15 free college credits to high school juniors and seniors. BCC has increased the number eligible students for the program.
"I'm thrilled that our new student and continuing student numbers are up. The BCC team has worked so hard to create an environment during the pandemic in which students could continue to thrive," said Adam Klepetar, BCC Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. "We continue to operate successfully in a very challenging enrollment environment, with decreases in the number of high school graduates and increases in competition."
William Cameron, Mark Brazeau, Vicky Smith, Alison McGee, Sara Hathaway, Daniel Elias, and William Tyer covered a number of topics ranging from staff wages and building improvements to Taconic High School's mascot change and the recent superintendent selection process.
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The six-term representative said the people of the Berkshire district deserve a dedicated advocate in the Senate. He cited the devastation that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on its communities and small businesses and how it widened the divide between the wealthy and those struggling to put food on... click for more
The forum was held at the Berkshire Athenaum as a partnership between iBerkshires.com and Pittsfield Community Television. It was moderated by iBerkshires Executive Editor Tammy Daniels and Pittsfield Bureau Chief Brittany Polito.
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William Garrity of Taconic High School and Elodie Theriault of Pittsfield High School received the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents Certificate of Academic Excellence.
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