Coastal Stewards Delaware

Tracy Davis

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.

Verizon Invades Seashore Park during Covid Lockdowns, installs poles at Historical Spots

Coastal Stewards Delaware has formally brought to the attention of Delaware’s Attorney General, concerns about telecoms possibly illegally constructing new 5G pole infrastructure in the Seashore State Park without public disclosure and without oversight. Already nine poles are up (see here) with permits along the coast, but Coastal Stewards has identified another 10 locations where telecom equipment has been placed on State Park property which the state claims no information or permits exist.


On October 8th, Coastal Stewards Delaware sent an appeal to the state Attorney General, Kathy Jennings, regarding the outcome of a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request made in September. Our FOIA request asked for permits or permit applications for 5G pole utility work along Coastal Highway/Route 1 from Dewey Beach south through the Delaware Seashore State Park. 


We sent the FOIA request to the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) in mid-September because we had noticed not only extensive markings in dozens of locations along the highway, but also some equipment that had been installed in 10 total locations (in addition to the nine already existing) – mounted equipment with optical cables spiced to that location, concrete pads, plastic junction boxes, and associated hardware. We provided the Attorney General with extensive geo-located photographs and information showing where the permits were in contrast to the construction.


The existing nine poles with permits were installed by Verizon in May 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, and placed in front of at least three historic sites, in wetlands, and blocking scenic seascapes as can be seen here. We are concerned that these  poles did not receive proper federal clearance for historical sites and rules which govern wetlands. The installation of the poles during a pandemic lockdown does not provide transparency or proper public disclosure.  


However, DelDOT which governs the right of way over the state highway, responded to the information request, to state that they have no such documents nor have they issued additional permits, despite physical evidence that work was being done in these 10 new locations. This was a surprise to us, and it means one of the following is likely true:

  1. More pole infrastructure is being placed without permits required under law.
  2. The state may be allowing work to be done without permits, despite substantial public interest in 5G pole construction and either:
    1. They are allowing the unpermitted work to continue  because the permits are in draft form. (The state attorney general’s office has rejected the draft form argument in the past when there is substantial public interest), OR
    2. There is no active work being done. This latter argument doesn’t seem plausible – see the evidence for yourself here.

This 5G activity in the Seashore State Park is the latest twist in the ongoing saga around small cell facilities in and around our beaches and public areas. Installations in Dewey Beach, Rehoboth Beach, Bethany, South Bethany and Fenwick Island have resulted in antennas and equipment mounted on 35ft to 50ft-tall poles on state rights of way including historical areas, wetlands, and seascapes. It’s changing the character of the coastline. Residents and property owners are justifiably outraged. Poles have been constructed and installed without public or local input as to the best design and aesthetic structure for coastal shorelines and coastal seascapes.


These controversial installations have been thoroughly covered by media and most recently resulted in a $375,000 “gift” from the state to Dewey Beach for relocating 5G poles, It remains to be seen if this money will ever be usable; the town has to reach a separate agreement with Verizon on relocation, the Cape Gazette confirmed with Verizon that they will take no action to relocate poles now because of a pending 5G pole lawsuit, and there is a three-year deadline to use the money.


It’s unacceptable to see an apparent lack of oversight and disclosure now affecting what is perhaps the crown jewel of Delaware’s state parks along an unspoiled coastline. If history is any indication of what will happen, 5G poles, which are larger and taller than neighborhood utility poles and top-heavy with bulky 5G equipment, will soon dot the shoreline in Seashore State Park. 5G technology requires close location of the poles, of less than 1000ft apart, and our geolocation analysis shows groups of markings and other activity less than a fifth of a mile apart throughout the park.


As responsible coastal stewards, we all have a duty to preserve the seascape and natural beauty of our Delaware coastline. The public has a reasonable need to know when this sort of infrastructure is coming. We are hopeful the Attorney General agrees. 


Exhibits and Attachments sent with the FOIA appeal letter:


  1. Sept. 15, 2021 FOIA request of DelDOT by Jeffrey C. Smith


  2. Sept. 21, 2021 DelDOT FOIA response


  3. Sept. 21, 2021 Follow-up good faith correspondence with DelDOT including the Public Relations office seeking to resolve the dispute over the lack of production of any documents by DelDOT.


  4. June 9, 2020 Cape Gazette article about Verizon 5G poles being spaced 500-1000 ft apart and stating that they require no public notice by Verizon along Rt. 1 (even in the Seashore State Park).


  5. Aug. 13, 2020  U.S. Court of Appeals decision governing 5G pole placement being subject to NEPA, NHPA Section 106, and associated public input and review. 


  6. Aug. 14, 2021 Legal analysis of U.S. Court of Appeals decision by Perkins Cole.


  7. July 2, 2021 Delaware AG opinion on DelDot FOIA denial.


  8. August 29, 2010 Delaware AG opinion on items of public interest not specifically exempted by FOIA.


  9. Photographs of construction sites without Permits sorted from North to South showing precise Geo Locations based on each individual photograph’s GPS as stored in each photo’s EXIF metadata information. Photos are shown with a map using that same GPS information. Attachment A.


  10. A Map of Permits from DelDOT’s Arcgis Permit System of Small Cell Installations on the right of the page, next to a Google Earth map of the locations and alleged construction sites as shown in each photograph’s Geolocation and displayed in Google Earth. Attachment B
  1. Summary photos grouped by type and/or wording which exists as written on the roadways of the Seashore State Park, on the pavement shoulder of Coastal Highway and nearby Inlet Road. Because there are so many we grouped them based on the writing that appears. Attachment C.  

Other links


Existing poles in Seashore State Park