It was certainly an unusual sight Tuesday afternoon – a huge cell phone tower being unloaded, piece-by-piece, from a parade of flatbed trucks and snapped into place like Erector set by a crane.
The unique construction project that played out at the property of the former Ortley Beach First Aid building (now pickleball courts) at Sixth Avenue drew a small crowd of onlookers – and then questions about what was being built, how long it would be there, and who approved it.
The tower, Toms River officials told Shorebeat, is temporary. It will carry Verizon wireless signals and expand bandwidth on the island through Sept. 30 on an emergency basis. In the past, as covered here on Shorebeat, Verizon has activated seasonal cellular antennas on top of a condominium near the oceanfront on Second Avenue. The company, this year, is considering a permanent placement of antennas at that private property and was unable to complete its application to the planning board in time, said township spokesman Art Gallagher.
Verizon then went to New Jersey American Water to ask about temporarily placing their nodes on top of the Ortley Beach water tower, but the company turned them down. At this point, facing a bandwidth crunch and lack of network capacity for the upcoming summer season, they approached the township about placing a temporary tower somewhere on publicly-owned property on an emergency basis.
The temporary tower was not the subject of an approval before any land use boards or the township council, however its classification as an emergency-built structure was determined to have complied with land use laws that allow it to be erected quickly.
“Municipalities are allowed to exempt themselves from having to get certain approvals and permits,” Gallagher said, adding that the township’s ordinance is vague on such issues, but complies with state land use policies.
“It really is an emergency and it is important for 911 calls and the like, to make sure those calls go through,” said Gallagher.
Indeed, Ortley Beach residents do experience dropped calls and failed calls during the height of the summer period, and increasingly, while signals are strong, bandwidth to actually use one’s phone can be overloaded, causing smartphones to perform extremely slowly.
Gallagher said Verizon will pay the township $20,000 to place the tower there through Sept. 30.