The worries that swamped all else at a recent Troy City Council meeting boiled down to this: Who has the power and why isn’t it us?
In a council chamber just returned to use after a year of online meetings via Zoom because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mayor had to warn “No clapping” when speakers raised two sizzling issues: One may soon bother countless Americans; the other already does.
First, residents complained that telecom giant Verizon chose their leafy neighborhood in Troy for installing a 40-foot pole, topped by newfangled equipment that will beam the latest version of cellphone service, called 5G — short for fifth generation. Americans want high-speed communication everywhere, so these towers will need to be almost everywhere.
The residents said they weren’t opposed to 5G, just upset about having this pole go up close to their homes, on a cul de sac that they say is a gathering spot for ice cream socials and kids’ events. They said the pole will be ugly, and that radiation from it may endanger those who spend time near it. The city’s official response, in a nutshell? “Sorry, but we’re powerless to help you. State law lets Verizon do that.”
A second group spoke up, angry that the Michigan Department of Transportation widened I-75 through Troy, adding to traffic noise reaching their homes. What especially irked these folks was that MDOT protected some subdivisions with towering new sound walls, yet left them without the walls. In many stretches, people said, a new wall went up on one side of I-75 but not on their side, so the freeway din bounced off the new wall and streamed back to them. The city’s official reply, in brief? Same as before, blame Lansing. Troy Mayor Ethan Baker said: “Listening to all of you, I’ve never been more struck by (seeing) the state take away more and more power from cities.”
And this fall, state lawmakers will consider other bills that would reduce local powers further. If they pass, opponents say that scenarios like trucks loaded with gravel could start rumbling by your home and there would be little that local leaders could do; and the houses around you could suddenly become Airbnb rental properties, with your city, village or township largely powerless to impose rules or taxes.
Local leaders have long lacked much say about state and federal highway standards. When it comes to deciding which areas get sound walls, that’s up to state highway engineers, according to MDOT. Although Michigan’s policy on sound walls is sent to federal highway administrators for approval, “it’s really MDOT policy that we apply consistently across the whole state of Michigan,” a spokesman for MDOT said.
In contrast, local governments had been accustomed to maintaining significant control over private companies seeking access to public land. That changed in 2018. State lawmakers passed the Small Cell bill, which gave the telecom giants, including Verizon, almost unfettered access to public rights…