Coastal Stewards Delaware

State Money to Move 5G Poles Hinges on Dewey Beach-Verizon Agreement

Dewey Beach, Delaware – A $375,000 gift from the state to relocate 5G poles that were sited in violation of local permitting laws can’t be used unless Dewey Beach is able to strike a separate agreement with Verizon. 

The money, which effectively removes relocation responsibility from the poles’ telecom company owners, can be used only to relocate the poles and must be used within three years of when the state-Dewey Beach Memorandum of Understanding is finalized. The snag? Verizon told the Cape Gazette it is unable to make any agreement or relocate poles because of a pending lawsuit over the poles, filed by several local citizens in June. The Delaware Court of Chancery issued a temporary restraining order on July 1 preventing Verizon from installing more 5G poles. And the town cannot proceed without a separate agreement with Verizon, Mayor Dale Cooke confirmed at the Sept. 10 regular council meeting.

Soon, Dewey will have what appears as a shiny $375,000 but not any progress towards solving any of the issues,” homeowner Jeffrey C. Smith wrote in a Sept. 18 email to the town council. “…So long as the funds are conditional on Verizon agreement with the town and any demand Verizon wishes to make, there are plenty of reasons, not considered at the Council meeting, that Dewey might want to reject the now unspendable funds, that were not considered at the Council meeting and which take the shine off the money.”

The town council voted unanimously to approve an agreement between the town and the State of Delaware, authorizing $375,000 of state monies to be used for relocating Verizon’s poles and any future poles at the State’s expense. The motion to approve passed after about 14 minutes of discussion, which largely involved citizen questions about why the state was awarding this money to the town. According to the MOA, the money can only be used to move 5G poles over a three-year period, including any new ones installed during that time by any wireless company. Any unused funds must be returned to the state. 

It is unclear whether, if the agreement with wireless companies over relocation fails or remains blocked, the town will be entitled to use any of the money to pay staff, counsel or consultants who may work on the issue. 

It is also unclear whether any other coastal communities have been granted money for 5G pole relocation. As of this writing, Dewey Beach appears to be the only one. And it remains unclear who made it happen, although Commissioner Paul Bauer gave some explanation.

“Each pole is about $14,000 dollars or so, just doing the math on that, ..if we had to move five we can do that math and $100,000 would have been fine,” he said. “But what happens between now and the next three years if anything else goes in and so that’s why …it’s about $375,000, with a little cushion.”

Asked why the town was receiving this money when other towns were not, Mayor Dale Cooke replied that “I’m not going to attempt to answer that question.” 

The Facts to Date

  • The MOA assumes that the wireless companies will be willing to work with the town to execute pole relocation. But it lays out no framework for this, nor does it outline that the town has to reach a separate agreement with Verizon or no funds will be released. It’s arguably not implied due to Verizon ownership of their poles since those are not on the Delaware Department of Transportation’s (DelDOT) right of way, and the DelDot agreement with the carriers contain DelDot rights to eject them. None of the five existing 5G poles got local permits, in violation of a federal environmental law, NEPA
  • The agreement effectively absolves Verizon and others from any responsibility, legal, financial or otherwise, to relocate poles. At this point it looks like Verizon is being relieved of the duty of the cost of moving their errant poles.
  • Verizon is the only company that would have poles moved as of today. The MOA is interpreted to include any future poles that go up within the next three years, by Verizon or other companies.
  • There is no mention of the need for Verizon cooperation in the MOA. There is no signature block for Verizon, meaning they are not party to the agreement. But without their cooperation and agreement, the poles won’t be relocated and the money cannot be used. 
  • The MOA means the town will own the project of getting a multinational corporation backed by hundreds of lawyers and local level lobbyists to agree to relocation. There was no discussion during the meeting of whether the town has the money and resources to have adequate legal and negotiator expertise. It is unclear if state money can be used for any of those expenses.  
  • Residents are expected to trust the town to manage this negotiation process, despite the mistakes that state Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf has publicly identified in the newspapers as Dewey mistakes and errors.
  • Verizon already agreed to move three of the poles as documented in the newspaper with state Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf championing that. It is unclear how the MOA affects that agreement and whether Verizon will now ask the town to bear the expense of relocation.
  • It is unclear whether the town had time for proper legal review of the MOA before the vote on a legally binding document with the State involving $375,000?
  • The town council did not say who drafted the MOA and whether any local officials were involved. 
  • Any Verizon conditions or requests that are at all objectionable to Dewey Beach could result in the town losing $375,000 and Verizon losing nothing. 
  • Legal, consultant, negotiator and staff time and fees may not be included as usable in the $375,000. This detail is not included in the agreement.
  • It appears that Verizon violated not just NEPA but also (with the Dewey lifesaving station) NHPA section 106. 
  • There was no public comment period for the MOA. CItizen group leader Jeffrey Smith was allowed to ask a few questions which were not sufficiently answered, but then it ended without there being an invitation for any more residents to ask or speak.