Pine Barrens Cell Tower Bedeviled by Bureaucracy

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Although the Woodland Township (NJ) Land Use Board has already approved plans to erect a 120-foot cell tower in the Pine Barrens community of Chatsworth, no further action has been taken. The proposal would place an AT&T FirstNet tower on the grounds of the Woodland Township Volunteer Fire and EMS Company. However, as the Pine Barrens Tribune reports, unrevealed “new information” and obfuscation about who is calling the shots has kept the project from gaining any traction.

Apparently, the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law (NJ OAL) would be the entity in charge of conducting a hearing to consider new information. But at this time neither Tower North Development, LLC, an affiliate of Centerline Communications, the prospective developers of the tower, have made such a request, nor has AT&T. The source notes that it reviewed available paperwork and was unable to determine what “new information” there was to consider.

A known consideration involves permitted land usage and whether or not amendments would be acceptable. The lack of wireless service in the region is undisputed, and an AT&T FirstNet tower would address a public safety need. However, as Pinelands Commission’s Director of Regulatory Programs, Charles Horner, pointed out, “We suspect the volume of commercial communication calls using the proposed communications tower and antenna array will far exceed [the] volume of calls for emergency services.” If the principal use is not emergency communications, extra allowances would need to be in order to construct a cell tower at that site.

Additionally, the number of New Jersey agencies involved make it difficult to determine who has the final authority to give the green light to the cell tower plans. NJ OAL is cited as the organization that would need to review new information. The Woodland Township Land Use Board says it is fielding complaints from residents regarding phantom health concerns and worries about property values, though this organization has previously voted in favor of the cell tower. The death of Pinelands Commission Executive Director, Nancy Wittenberg, in 2021 has further complicated decision making.

When the Pine Barrens Tribune asked AT&T for an official response, it received this statement: “This proposed site is part of our ongoing investment to improve service and coverage for first responders in the Chatsworth area and would provide dedicated connectivity for first responders when they need it. We are disappointed in the staff’s conclusions and are considering our options.”

It is unclear at this time whether AT&T will try to take the reins and get this project moving again, or if it will continue to form an eddy around various New Jersey factions who seem unwilling or unable to advance construction. 

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