Name village, Homeland, Verizon in federal suit
Eighteen residents, most from Nelsonville, last week filed a federal lawsuit against the village and two telecommunications companies that plan to construct a cell tower off Rockledge Road, above the Cold Spring Cemetery.
They claim a litigation settlement reached between Nelsonville and the companies over the tower violates state and federal environmental laws and undermines local authority.
The lawsuit asks that a judge invalidate the agreement, which ended an expensive and complex 19-month legal battle between the village and Homeland Towers and its partner, Verizon Wireless, over the construction of the cell tower on a 9.6-acre wooded site. The Nelsonville Village Board ratified the settlement on Jan. 21.
The companies sued Nelsonville in 2018 after the Zoning Board of Appeals, in a decision backed by the Village Board, denied their application to construct the tower. AT&T Mobility, which also hopes to use the tower, sued the village separately.
The residents brought their own legal action “so that our village can follow the law without being bullied by the telecoms,” David Eisenbach, a leader of the group, explained on Monday (Oct. 19). He said records from Village Board meetings, plus news articles quoting Mayor Michael Bowman and his predecessor, Bill O’Neill, “reveal the telecoms bullied and intimidated our elected officials, who felt they had no choice but to agree to the settlement.”
He added that the residents want the village to allow more public input on changes to the cell tower plans made after the settlement and that the “ultimate goal is to find a sensible location” for the tower. On Thursday (Oct. 22) he suggested the Butterfield redevelopment complex in Cold Spring or the Philipstown Highway Department on Fishkill Road in Nelsonville as possible locations.
The settlement, according to the lawsuit, “is a fundamentally flawed, illegal and dangerous litigation tool.”
The 33-page lawsuit accuses the cell-tower companies of employing a “sue-and-settle gambit” and wielding their resources with such a “hefty thud” that Nelsonville “caved” and failed to represent the interests of its citizens.
The lawsuit also charges that the settlement “bargains away” village zoning control and law-enforcement powers, represents “spot zoning,” and “promotes private interests at the expense of the general welfare.”
Village officials received the document on Wednesday (Oct. 21) and on Thursday Mayor Mike Bowman said they are working with the village lawyer and insurance company to meet a 21-day deadline to answer the claims. Homeland Towers’ lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit argues that the settlement failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act, as well as the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act.
Neither the village and cell-tower companies nor the presiding judge “conducted any environmental review of the project before adopting” the settlement, the lawsuit states. “Without any study of the project’s impact on threatened and endangered species, its environmental impacts might well be irreversible.”
A Cold Spring homeowner who lives on Parsonage Street, which borders Nelsonville, and a couple who live on East Mountain Road South in northern Philipstown joined the Nelsonville residents as plaintiffs in bringing the legal action, which contends that the tower is “in such close proximity” to Nelsonville properties as “to generate adverse environmental impacts that are unique and fundamentally different from [those facing] the public at large.” (East Mountain Road is about 2 miles from Nelsonville.)
Among likely threats to residents, the complaint lists “light and visual pollution,” increased stormwater runoff, causing erosion; elimination of habitats for birds, mammals and native plants; and displacement of animals, including the endangered Indiana Bat and threatened Northern Long-Eared Bat.