Pittsfield City Council to Decide $84K for Cell Tower Attorney
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Board of Health is requesting $84,000 from the city for legal counsel to shut down a Verizon cell tower at 877 South St.
The City Council will vote Tuesday on a request to acquire attorneys Andrew Rainer of
Brody, Hardoon, Perkins & Kesten, LLP in Boston and Robert J. Berg of Robert J. Berg, PLLC in Scarsdale, N.Y., to assist in legal action following the issuance of a cease-and-desist order for the tower.
This breaks down into $12,000 for representation and advice to the board if a hearing is requested by Verizon, $12,000 for representation in negotiations to resolve the matter if Verizon agrees to that, and $60,000 for representation of the board in litigation challenging the issuance of the cease-and-desist order if the matter is not negotiated.
In early April, the board voted to act on the order nearly two months after first approving it. This vote was conditioned on the order being withdrawn without prejudice if the board is unable to retain legal counsel prior to an administrative or judicial proceeding.
The order states that the cellular company has one week to respond or come to the table with a solution that pleases the panel, which would be to remove or turn off the tower. The board had planned on meeting on April 20 to follow up on the order but never met.
Since the tower's erection in August 2020, Alma Street resident Courtney Gilardi and her daughter have spoken during open microphone about negative health effects they say are from electromagnetic fields (EMF) generated by the antennae on the 115-foot pole.
Gilardi says her family has had to leave their home and has provided documentation from a physician to the board. Other residents have joined her protests.
"The Board of Health is responsible for disease prevention and control, for protecting human health and the environment, and for promoting a healthy community. Based upon this responsibility, and the evidence presented of the harm to public health being done by the 877 South Street Cell Tower, the Board of Health voted 4-0 on April 6, 2022 to unanimously issue a cease-and-desist order to Verizon Wireless requiring suspension of the operation of the cell tower," Chair Bobbie Orsi wrote to the council.
"Thus, as a formal response to the original petition, the Board of Health reports that there is harm being done to the residents in the vicinity of the 877 South Street Cell Tower, that the Board has taken action to protect those residents, and that the Board anticipates it may require legal assistance to defend that action. Specifically, the Board of Health requests the petitioner (City Council) to allocate funds in the event that there is litigation by Verizon, and also place the City's liability insurer on notice of a possible claim. The Board of Health has done preliminary work in seeking expert legal representation. The Board of Health has identified two attorneys who have extensive experience in environmental law, and who are prepared to enter into a contract to represent the Board of Health with the approval of the City Council."
Reported side effects have included nausea, dizziness, tinnitus, sleep disruption, irritability, headaches, extreme fatigue, brain "fog," difficulty concentrating, heart palpitations, skin rashes, and memory problems.
The board received medical records from three members of the Gilardi household from Dr. Sharon Goldberg, a physician in the study of electromagnetic hypersensitivity, and the three have been diagnosed with the condition.
Rainer's resume states that he has represented businesses, states and local governments, and individuals in many environmental use matters including oil spills, air pollution, PCBs, and lead paint. Berg has experience in the Wireless Telecommunications Law.
Both attorneys have offered reduced rates.
"Mr. Berg's normal billing rate is currently $650/hour. However, given the great public importance of this matter and the fact that the Board of Health, a municipal government ·department, will be the client, Mr. Berg will be pleased to lower his billing rate for this matter to a special discounted rate of $400/hour. Mr. Rainer's normal billing rate is currently $750/hour. Like Mr. Berg, Mr. Rainer will be pleased to lower his billing rate for this matter to a special discounted rate of $400/hour. Mr. Rainer may, from time to time, as appropriate, utilize other attorneys or professional staff employed by his firm to perform necessary work, and they will charge special hourly rates discounted from their normal billing rates at the same discounted percentage as used by Mr. Berg and Mr. Rainer," The request reads.
"The attorneys anticipate that, if Verizon is unwilling to reach a negotiated resolution, it could bring litigation in a number of different forums. The $60,000 estimate set forth above is based on a challenge to the Board's cease-and-desist order brought in the Massachusetts trial court. If Verizon were to bring suit in federal court, or in another forum, the Board may need to present a revised budget, and will, in any event, return to the Council before incurring any other or different expenses from those set forth above."
The board met with Mayor Linda Tyer in mid-April to request the funds. Because it is for city dollars, the allocation has to be passed by the council. Information has not been released on how the meeting went or if Verizon has responded to the order.
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