Coastal Stewards Delaware

Dewey Town Revising its Ordinance to Address Beachfront-Blocking Pole Installs

Keeping the 5G poles and infrastructure in check and compliant with evolving local laws and design standards is critically important. But just as important is ensuring that those rules keep in mind the broader goals of 5G – enhanced communication where needed – without compromising Dewey Beach’s seaside beauty, fragile dune environment and historical wonders. 

To that end, board members of Coastal Stewards Delaware spoke at the Oct. 21 Dewey Beach Planning and Zoning Commission meeting to share best practices that we’ve researched using our skills in policy, education and technology, as the commission discussed proposed changes to the small cell ordinance. Those best practices were focused on the need for strategy, leveraging community resources and emerging case law around FCC policy and federal rules protecting environmentally sensitive and historic areas.

Board Member Maryam Tabrizi, a presence in Dewey Beach for two decades and a property owner since 2017, emphasized five specific points as she spoke during the public comment period. 

  1. The ordinance needs to address two federal laws designed to protect the environment and historic sites. The FCC had relaxed some regulatory requirements in for 5G construction that have conflicted with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). But recent rulings, including one in the D.C. Court of Appeals and another on tribal lands, suggest the FCC’s approach is unlawful. The FCC has since said that every wireless telecommunications facility (WTF) must undergo NEPA review.

    Citing the 5G pole at the Dewey Beach Lifesaving Station, Tabrizi said that “Preservation of the history and the environmental beauty of this little beach town should be a priority. We, as Dewey Beach, are extremely rich in history, and it should be honored and preserved.”

  1. Think strategically. Tabrizi and Board Member Rick Meyer stressed the importance of strategy also. Instead of letting wireless companies plant poles wherever they want, why aren’t we looking at what the community actually needs in terms of wireless coverage? And why are they needed on the beachfront, which is only heavily used three months of the year and mostly already has 4G coverage?

    “If poles need to be placed for coverage needs, we need to address the aesthetic concerns, and not install the cheapest options available. If the state is willing to give us $375,000 to move poles if we don’t like them, why not put money upfront to address doing it right with the right placement and aesthetics/design so they don’t have to be moved?” Tabrizi asked.

  1. Introduce the concept of BATEA to the ordinance. The concept of Best Available Technology Economically Achievable (BATEA) already exists in many federal codes and global standards. Wireless carriers executing at scale are likely to go as cheap as possible. That generally has a big negative impact on aesthetics, and codifying the concept into the ordinance could only help viewsheds that have already been impaired with cheap, bulky, top-heavy equipment.

  1. Let’s get this right so we’re not a continued example of “what not to do.” With a pending lawsuit, a state award of $375,000, and extensive media coverage, we have an opportunity to develop a model plan for other communities.  

    “We have the opportunity for Dewey Beach to be put on the map for taking the time and resources to be a model and do this right,” Tabrizi said.  

  1. Draw on the community’s resources. As Coastal Stewards we have a lot of knowledgeable people willing to do research and help guide the town of Dewey Beach on the 5G ordinance. We are willing to help the commissioners and committee and give guidance to them.