Says federal law not applicable in property-rights dispute
A U.S. District Court judge ruled last week that federal law does not prevent citizens from bringing property rights challenges to cell tower projects.
The Sept. 7 decision by Judge Vincent Briccetti sends back to Putnam County Supreme Court a lawsuit by Nelsonville neighbors who object to plans to construct an access route to the tower site, which is off Rockledge Road and overlooks Cold Spring Cemetery. The access route would cross homeowners’ land.
National telecommunications law “does not preempt causes of action seeking to vindicate state-law property rights,” Briccetti wrote in a 12-page decision that sent the case back to the county court. The judge, based in White Plains, added that the residents’ claims depend “solely on issues of state law.”
In October 2020, the residents filed their lawsuit in Putnam Supreme Court, part of the New York State judicial system. Over their objections, the cell tower companies attempted to move the proceedings to federal court, where a separate case involving environmental issues is pending against the Village of Nelsonville and the companies: Homeland Towers, Verizon Wireless and AT&T.
Briccetti presided over earlier lawsuits initiated by Homeland Towers and Verizon against Philipstown and Nelsonville after each municipality refused to approve cell tower projects. The town and village settled in 2019 and early 2020, respectively, and plans for both towers went ahead.
However, the 95-foot Nelsonville tower stalled again when the Rockledge neighbors sued to stop the companies from widening the approach to the site. The firms characterize the access as an “easement,” while the neighbors say it is a “right of way” that cannot be altered without their approval.
A temporary restraining order issued by a Putnam court that prevents the cell tower firms from starting construction or altering the road remains in effect. In March, crews cut down trees on the property to clear space for the tower base.