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The Pittsfield Board of Health issued a cease-and-desist order to Verizon. Now it's looking for an attorney to back it up

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From left, Board of Health members Kim Loring, Board Chair Bobbie Orsi and Stephen Smith listen as residents living near the cell tower ask the Board of Health to issue a cease and desist order to Verizon Wireless.

PITTSFIELD — An order from the Board of Health to Verizon Wireless to cease and desist use of the telecommunication company’s cell tower on 877 South St. was mailed to the company on Monday, according to Health Department Director Andy Cambi.

The board sent the order by certified and regular mail to Verizon Wireless, more than two months after members voted unanimously to issue a cease-and-desist order in response to numerous health problems reported by neighbors living near the 4G cell tower.

The Board of Health and the Pittsfield Department of Health declined to share a copy of the order with The Eagle until city officials received notice that Verizon had received the order.

“I think we get so confused with all of the ‘What could be’ and ‘What could happen,’ ‘How are we going to pay for it’ that we lose track of what we’re supposed to do,” Chair Bobbie Orsi said at last week’s board meeting.

“I think we need to at least do what we’re supposed to do,” Orsi said.

Board members voted on Feb. 2 to give Verizon two weeks to meet and discuss removing or relocating the tower. The Board said if the company failed to meet that deadline it would issue a cease-and-desist order to have the tower turned off.

Since that time, the order has stalled out in a series of executive sessions of the board. In late February, the board met in an executive session with city solicitor Stephen Pagnotta to talk about the process of issuing a cease-and-desist order.

Board member Brad Gordon said that it became clear during these conversations that Pagnotta was “not in a position to serve in” the role of the board’s attorney if the order resulted in legal action from Verizon.

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Residents came prepared with posters and signs during the open microphone portion of the April 6 Board of Health meeting to ask the board to issue the cease and desist order.

Pagnotta is currently representing the city in a lawsuit brought by abutters to the tower that alleges that the city and Verizon failed to provide proper notice in 2017 to residents that Verizon was planning to build a cell tower.

Orsi said during the executive session in February the board reviewed a draft cease-and-desist order that had been written by two attorneys that “were interested in helping.”

In March, the board met with one of the attorneys again during another executive session, this time to discuss how much it would cost to retain the attorney if issuing the order resulted in a court case.

Orsi said the attorney advised the board to generate a budget and get approval to hire outside legal counsel from the City Council before issuing the order.

“We can’t go to the council until we go to see the mayor and we have not been able to get a meeting on the books,” Orsi said. “We have one coming up but it was really difficult to make that happen.”

Cambi confirmed Tuesday that the board would be meeting with Mayor Linda Tyer on Wednesday. Board members were in agreement that they wouldn’t pursue the order further if they aren’t able to hire an attorney.

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For two years residents living near the Verizon Wireless cell tower on 877 South St. have come before the Board of Health with health problems they attributed to the tower. Now the board has decided to act.

Members decided last week that the order would include the ability to withdraw everything without prejudice if they were “unable to obtain legal counsel prior to any administrative or judicial proceeding.”

“I believe the people, I believe that this is true and this is happening to them,” Orsi said. “All we’re asking is for [Verizon] to come in for a hearing.”

“I don’t think that’s too much to ask honestly,” she said.

Meg Britton-Mehlisch can be reached at mbritton@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6149.

Pittsfield Reporter

Meg Britton-Mehlisch is the Pittsfield reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, she previously worked at the Prior Lake American and its sister publications under the Southwest News Media umbrella in Savage, Minnesota.

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