Op-Ed: Why I’m Running for Town Council


I’m a sucker for a good cause. I’m always inspired by the film classic, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” where an ordinary citizen fights for what he believes is right. I found a good cause at the April 24 meeting of the Utilities Commission, at which public input was sought on a proposal to improve cell phone service. The meeting was a train wreck.

The UC members are smart, caring, and technically savvy volunteers whose only interest is to make New Canaan a safer, better place to live. Yet the commissioners, especially Chairman Tom Tesluk, were vilified by a faction intent on stopping cell tower construction in their neighborhoods. With opposition so vehement, one wondered whether expanding cell service can happen any time soon. When will we be able to respond to the urgings of New Canaan’s Police, Fire, and Volunteer Ambulance Corps, who consider improved cell service to be a public safety imperative?

This is a good cause worth fighting for. It’s why I’m running for Town Council.

I testified at the UC meeting about the aesthetics of cell towers. I showed that New Canaan’s otherwise idyllic scenery is already blanketed with several thousand utility poles festooned with hundreds of miles of ugly hanging wires and equipment. Because we need the good things the wires bring us, we accept and grow accustomed to the visual blight. We look through it, and see the beauty beyond. Will any of this change if we add a few carefully sited, camouflaged cell towers to the many thousands of utility poles already in place? I don’t think so.

Some neighbors also claimed that radiation from cell towers poses an unacceptable risk of cancer, particularly to school children. These claims should be taken very seriously, so I’ve spent a lot of time researching them.

Thousands of scientific studies have been performed on cell tower radiation, the overwhelming majority of which have found no credible evidence that cell towers cause cancer. However, a small number of alarmist studies have been “cherry-picked” to feed a cottage industry that opposes cell tower construction. Typically, these studies are not rigorously performed, use questionable statistical methods, can’t be replicated (so are scientifically invalid), fail to discuss other studies with inconsistent results, and aren’t based on a credible theory consistent with the basic laws of physics. For each study showing an adverse impact from cell tower radiation, often there are many others that attempt to replicate the results but find no adverse impact at all.

Here’s what’s not in dispute: cell towers generate at least 100 times less radiation exposure than cell phones themselves. Also, radiation exposure from cell phones is significantly greater when communicating with distant cell towers than with closer ones. So, if there are health concerns, shouldn’t they be focused on phones, not towers?

If there were a biologically plausible basis for assertions that cell towers pose a meaningful health risk, how could we justify building any towers at all? Could we even justify continuing to operate the ones we have?

In response to public input, the Utilities Commission has deferred consideration of a proposed tower site near West School. I support that decision, but I don’t see it as a concession that cell tower radiation is dangerous for children or adults. Separating schools and towers need not have a scientific rationale if it’s important to parents who feel it’s necessary to protect their children. However, we mustn’t adopt a school setback that interferes with the critically important antennae currently located on the Waveny water tower. Any new rule also must accommodate a new structure in Waveny Park, if the Town no longer is permitted to locate antennae on the water tower.

Bringing New Canaan from the current, primitive level of cell phone coverage to a modern one will be a difficult process requiring strong leadership, and proponents will be challenged at every step. But it’s a cause worth fighting for, and I’m in for the duration.

5 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Why I’m Running for Town Council

  1. Your argument is a contradiction. You do not support new tower at West School but say that tower should remain at Waveny in close proximity to NCHS, Saxe, South School and assisted senior living center.

  2. It is amazing how many existing and aspiring politicians are happy sacrifice others for their own attempted political gain except when targeted opposition (e.g., west school mothers) is fierce. Five years ago, the UC said the public utility right of way would never be used for cell equipment. One year ago, a selectman wrote to PURA against a proposed communication use. Today, the same candidate attempts to take credit for Verizon’s astute use of the right of way and the equipment is smaller than conventional electric transformers. Candidates have been keen to volunteer other schools, churches, and land trust property but not their own backyard. Time to look at all the wealthy communities who have improved service without conventional equipment. A bit more work, but a truly worthy cause.

  3. Nothing in Tom Butterworth’s well-reasoned letter would prevent New Canaan from using unconventional cell equipment. What he is arguing against is irrational objection to cell tower siting. And thank goodness he is willing to take a public position on this important matter, because he knows he will be vilified by some. Most New Canaanites recognize the need for improved cell service and are willing to bear the visual “blight” towers cause. Nonscientific “studies” should play no role in the process.

    • Besides a lack of fairness, Mr Butterworth’s position on cell towers is just not good politics. Now that he is on record in saying that West School should not have a cell tower what will he say when NCHS or South School parents press the issue and ask to have the tower relocated from Waveny? How can he say no? If we are ever going to have better cell coverage in NC it’s going to take a gutsy politician to require everyone to share in the risk.

  4. Dear Tom,
    I respectfully disagree with your letter. It contains false and inaccurate statements that can mislead people.
    A cell phone tower may be less radiating then a cell phone, but people exposed to it: 1) have no choice, and 2) are under its radiation 24×7.
    You also mentioned utility poles as an “ugly town feature”, but I don’t remember seeing one that is 150ft tall.
    What I find frustrating in this cell tower debate is the lack of willingness to look for alternatives to the cell tower option. Just because it is convenient to put a tower, that doesn’t make it the best solution.
    The whole idea that we need to sacrifice some neighbors for others is only applicable when there is no win-win solution. That has not been proven yet. The opposite is true: plenty other towns and wealthy communities have adopted other (and better) technologies, time for New Canaan to do the same.

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