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Cell Tower To Be Moved Outside Of Bluefields

Most Bluefield’s residents would now be aware that the proposed cell tower behind properties at the Donelson Pike entrance will be moved to another location outside of Bluefields. There are many people to thank for this very happy outcome and I will be naming some of those great folks that helped us achieve this outcome but I wanted to share a brief summary of one of the most hectic, stressful and ultimately rewarding experiences that I have personally been involved in. I also share some things that started happening before we knew about the cell tower. In hind-site I think the stars aligned for Bluefields and the outcome could have been very different for our neighborhood. Things seem to fall in to place for us and as a Bluefield resident I am proud and happy to share this story with you.

In early April Bluefields had formed a new committee called Smart Growth to start focusing on how Bluefield’s was connecting and growing with the ever changing landscape around Bluefields. We were particularly interested in the Railway line and in particular the maintenance along the line on the Bluefield Avenue residents side. Overgrown and lots of trash and garbage had really caught our attention including the bridge area and we really want to get some ideas how this area could become a much better maintained and managed place (not only for Bluefields residents but any Music City Traveler that passes thru Donelson Station and first impression of Donelson which could be a very poor one).

A field trip was organized with our Smart Growth Committee and we were fortunate to have Jeff Syracuse who is running for 15th District Councilman join us. We visited several committee members houses (and back yards) to see what their views and challenges were backing up to the railway line and it was very eye opening to see issues at one end of Bluefield’s Avenue were very different challenges than the other end. Cynthia and Alan McMillian’s property was part of the site visit and it was during that visit that Alan identified that surveying work and markers had been placed behind adjoining properties.

Cynthia’s McMillian’s initial research had identified that a communications tower was being proposed for this area which was a small area of railway land adjoining residential properties. The land had been a rail yard some 50 years or so back and had grown into a very important visual and sound barrier from the train line. During our field trip we all looked at this area and markers for the tower. This area incidentally is one of the most beautiful green spaces you would find in any neighborhood in Nashville and the immediate reaction by our committee that even a small building would really hurt the ascetics of that area.

We had no fundamental understanding at stage what was actually being proposed there so we agreed our best avenue was to get as much information about the communications tower and then formulate a plan of action. As Jeff Syracuse had a knowledge of the area we reached out to Jeff and Chamber President (and Bluefield Residents) Lara Tucker and asked for assistance in organizing an information meeting with all parties involved. Primarily Nashville & Eastern Railway and AT&T were the companies proposing the communications tower and within a short period we were informed us that 15th District Councilman Phil Claiborne had called an information meeting for residents. We were incredibly fortunate that this meeting was organized and without this meeting it very unclear how we would have established such a quick understanding of what was being proposed.

On Tuesday May 15th a packed conference room at Fifty Forward was introduced to the plans for the communications tower. It didn’t take before we all had a full understanding of the proposed communication tower – A 120 foot cell tower with a 30 * 50 foot base surrounded by a 7 foot chain link fence and a 1 foot barbed wire top with a concrete drive connecting the tower to Donelson Pike. To the amazement of the resident attendees the proposal was presented as being governed by Federal Law that gave the Railway every right to proceed without any consideration to residents as well as local metro laws for this type of facility. The supporting reason for this communication tower was a federal requirement (PTC) for commuter train line safety.

Lots of questions were asked but ultimately the presentation of plans had really had a shocking effect on attendees in particular those whose properties were right in the immediate area. This was reinforced by Councilman Claiborne clarifying that this was a done deal supported by federal law and that the residents of Bluefields needed to recognize this tower was going to be constructed. There was an air of hopelessness in the room as the meeting concluded and reality of the news was setting in…

At the conclusion of the meeting Bluefield residents could have bowed their heads and walked out of the conference room and simply accepted their fate. They were clearly being told to do that – BUT THEY DID NOT – the residents of Bluefields gathered together and talked about what options they had and what actions they could take. In that post meeting several folks who had asked many great questions and clarified some obvious problems with this proposal stepped up immediately to offer their expertise in working to campaign against the proposed cell tower. It seemed fundamentally wrong what was being proposed and within minutes a rallying call had been established and although there was not a clear plan yet established there was a clear resolve to fight!

Within 24 hours of that meeting a core team was formed to start our campaign. One of the critical calls that came into our group during that period was a call from Jeff Syracuse. Jeff had attended the meeting and called the next morning to let us know that he felt the tower should not be placed in this location and should be placed in another location. It was a simple statement from Jeff but I felt Jeff was both compassionate and courageous in making that call. And with that call Jeff gave us hope! Jeff directed us to contact State Representative Jernigan and Congressman Cooper to see if they could aid us. Our campaign was afoot!

Within 24 hours we agreed also agreed on our campaign leaders as well as their support team. Joe and Kara Siejakowski had shown a level of leadership and resolve in our meeting that showed they were absolutely committed to the fight. Joe was cool and calm and Kara was passionate and driven and we could not have had a greater or more committed leadership team. It was personal to Joe and Kara and their home was in line to be greatly affected by the proposed tower and their strategic thinking and energy was exactly what we needed. Myself, Vicki, Megan Deardorff and Maggie Sidlinger with additional talented residents formed the support group to assist and contribute where we all could. Between the team and volunteering neighbors we had lawyers, historic neighborhood experts, website support, and administrative skills that would all be needed. It was great to see the talent our neighborhood had but more important was the courage of people stepping up when the outcome was painted so bleakly. People were willing to lend their support when the chips were clearly down.

Within 24 hours we had also agreed on a campaign slogan – No Cell Tower at Historic Bluefields. It was clear and concise and it was our statement. We intended to stop the tower from being placed here and we would fight until we had accomplished that goal. That week we threw lots of energy at launching an online petition with support documentation on our website while Joe and Kara canvassed the neighborhood with a written petition and spent their entire first weekend on the streets. They also went and took photos of cell towers in the area which would play a critical role in how we presented potential damage to all involved. The No Cell Tower at Historic Bluefields campaign was alive and kicking. And to finish off an amazing week we had 2 television stations come and cover the story. That level of exposure was so critical for us and the coverage really legitimized our campaign. I also saw two important items that stayed with us for the entire campaign - first hand was how strategic, cool calm and collected Joe was in interviews and secondly how beautiful the properties and green space were in the proposed area and seeing these lovely homes and magical green space really helped reinforce why this was such a bad plan.

A follow up board and neighborhood meeting a week later provided a great opportunity to review our campaign and give everyone our focus and direction. Lots of good things were discussed in that meeting and the meeting really consolidated everyone resolve to fighting this tower. The neighborhood agreed unanimously to fund 50 campaign signs and then in a bold move a proposal was presented to host the Bluefield’s Annual Picnic in the green space area (that was in question) – so that we could have an easy ability to show neighbors, elected officials and media the homes, neighbors and families that were going to be affected by this. This was an opportunity to bring many people together and show them the issue first hand and ultimately it would provide a great vehicle for timing and pressure when needed in negotiations. We also had established a time line for when we would have to look at legal alternatives to fight the cell tower so the picnic date gave us a good date to go to the legal phase of the campaign if necessary.

By early the next week we had been offered support from State Representative Darren Jernigan and a meeting was then organized with Don Majors of Congressman Coopers Office. Critical to this meeting was a great location downtown that was convenient to all while providing us with a professional meeting location that was critical to help clarify the importance of our meeting. Kara provided this to us thru her law firm Bass, Berry & Simms and we were given the very best meeting rooms in Nashville to meet at. This was a great asset to our campaign.

Joe, myself and Kara met with Darren and Don and it was exactly the meeting we needed. Both expressed their absolute support for us but also gave great summary and clarification of the problem we had. They did not beat around the bush or flower this situation. Darren was very clear that due process should be followed on a project of this nature. Darren expressed that he felt this was wrong and he certainly made us feel like he was absolutely on our team.

Darren also provided invaluable feedback with a reaction to a photo we had just placed on our website that Kara showed on a big screen in our meeting room. Vicki had taken a copy of a cell tower photo that Joe and Kara had provided and superimposed it over a house of Bluefield’s Avenue. The results were startling but I hadn’t really noticed the impact until I saw Darren’s connection with the photo. It was a HOME RUN as it showed the absolute and clear damage that would occur if the cell tower was built. Darren’s reaction clearly gave us insight into what photos we needed on our website and his gut reaction really supported our belief that this was wrong.

Don Majors from Congressman Cooper’s Office summarized the project and options he felt we had. Don quickly gave good summation on what were the most obvious strengths and weakness of the claims for this projecting purpose. This was incredibly valuable in a situation like this you can easily run in all directions (and sometimes in circles) and ultimately not be effective (and burn out your resources). Ultimately Don agreed to follow up with Congressman Cooper and ask him to provide help to us which was a clear goal and outcome from this meeting. With Congressman Cooper’s involvement and support in asking Nashville & Eastern Railway and AT&T to look for an alternative location.

With the campaign in full swing with No Cell Tower signs popping up all over Bluefields we were continued researching the areas we felt were the most relevant items to our campaign…

Historic Preservation – We found out quite quickly that Historic Preservation plays a large role in protecting neighborhoods from projects such as this cell tower. Historic Preservation has federal laws and organizations and as well as local organizations that are all resources when an historic neighborhood may be damaged or changed significantly. One of our strategies was to request a case study to establish the property damage that may be encountered with the installation of this tower. We establish fairly quickly that if federal funding was provided for PTC (the Railway Commuter Line Mandate) – we would be entitled to a neighborhood study to establish impact on or historic neighborhood. We were very fortunate to have several experts in this area in our neighborhood and they provided tremendous assistance as we communicated with our local historical organization. Thru this process we established that Bluefield’s is eligible for Historic Designation and this will be an agenda item for discussion on our September neighborhood and board meeting.

PTC Federal Mandate – Positive Train Control is a federal mandate for commuter railway lines to improve communications along the railway line (safety). Communication towers are being erected around the country in particular on Class 1 Train Lines (Our line is a Class 3 line) and the size and type of tower varied greatly. There appeared to be lots of options you had in installing a communication tower for this mandate. Nashville & Eastern Railway Line had addressed this mandate in 2012 with a 120 page document that basically clarified their compliancy would be covered by existing infrastructure. Apparently there are 1000 of cases in courts and arbitration right now in relation to Historic Neighborhood and PTC Implementation so we certainly established that Historic Preservation and PTC were very tied together and related.

Cell Towers in Neighborhoods – This is clearly modern day challenge for societies around the world with the advent of mobile phones and data usage. We all did lots of research finding neighborhoods that had fought installation of cell towers including studies to verify the estimated property value loss with installation of a cell tower. Also research was done to find information about the health and safety within neighborhoods. Fifteen plus children played daily in the immediate area of the cell tower and without a doubt parents were very concerned about this. This is an area that continues to be researched and studied and with the infancy of mobile technology we may not actually understand health risks for many years. One of the critical items that we always emphasized during any interview or discussion with folks was that we were not against Cell Towers being erected. We were against them being installed in neighborhoods when there was ample industrial areas along the railway line that could have been used. When you don’t have impact a neighborhood you shouldn’t. We also established this was going to be the highest tower ever erected in Donelson.

Into week3 I was feeling a little tired and a little beaten up. I can’t image what Joe and Kara as well as other team members were feeling. Everyone was still working their full time jobs while spending hours on our campaign. This was such a stressful event for the neighbors in the immediate area I can’t imagine how they were feeling. I was convinced they had lost their natural peace and enjoyment one naturally has with their home. People’s homes were definitely under attack and I am sure it tested every home owner daily. The reality of how tough this campaign was certainly settling in. Our board led by Tammy Hobbs was also having to make tough decisions and were really under pressure unlike anything that had experienced at Bluefields but commendably there was unanimous support for the entire campaign and funding for the picinic which were critically important and graciously received by our campaign.

Right when the energy level was low I saw an e-mail coming in from Joe that he had confirmed that Congressman Cooper had spoken with the president of Nashville & Eastern Railway Line who had agreed to consider an alternative location. We were given some specific parameters for alternative locations for the cell tower and this news was very uplifting. The power of a US Congressman representing us was obvious and I do remember feeling a bit of weight had lifted with the news. I think I yelled out to be honest. Jim Cooper passed on the response and suggested we look for some alternative locations. He also asked the railway to do the same (although we were not aware of this until later on)….

When I talked about great resources I hadn’t included our ace up our sleeve. Kara’s father is an engineer that works on railway development in New Jersey and was expert in this area and well supported with a team all knowledgeable in this area. SO – Kara’s father commenced looking at the Music City Star line in Metro Nashville for alternative locations that met the criteria provided. His team would provide us coordinates and then Vicki using Google Earth would bring up the location and produce a map for presentation. We ended up coming up with around 8-10 locations all away from residential areas. I think we all felt the tide was turning…

Additionally we also received follow up from Courtney Wheeler from the Mayor’s office agreed to meet with us at Kara and Joe’s and the Mayor’s Office support was certainly helping us feel that momentum was on our side.

So within a week (now in week 4 and ironically 4 days before our annual picnic) we received communication that the interested Parties wanted to have a conference call to discuss a resolution. The meeting was going to be held by Don Majors of Congressman Cooper’s Office, State Representative Darren Jernigan, Courney Wheeler (Mayors Office) and myself and Joe all assembled to talk with Nashville & Eastern Railway and their representative group Infrastructures Solutions. We felt confident we would have a solution offered in the meeting and although it was not offered immediately after a good hour of conversation we had our break thru with an agreement to move the tower out of Bluefields.

As soon as the agreement was made I fell back my seat and remember being totally relaxed. I don’t know how Joe felt as we had been discussing a lot of things before the agreement was reached but I am sure he was relieved. Joe was really focusing on locations and I presented the Home Owners views. One area that I felt was extremely helpful and put pressure on all parties was the upcoming Annual Picnic. The thought of a neighborhood of 250 families gathering for an annual picnic at the proposed cell tower location was definitely being felt by NERR and their representatives.

Of course the key pressure came from Congressman Cooper's Office and to that we will always be greatful. With the support of Don Majors, Darren Jernigan, Courney Wheeler and Jeff Syracuse we had all the fire power we needed to get a great result. We thank these great public officials for their support in resolving this issue!

And then to our delight four days later we announced at the picnic that the Cell tower was being moved. It was a great celebration and also a fabulous Bluefields picnic and one of the happiest days I had experienced in a while. Many of you were there and I don’t need to recap. I am humbled by this experience and the way our neighbors came together to fight for something that appeared to be an impossible fight. It was a civics lesson for me and testament to the Power of the People.

Joe and Kara – thank you for the leadership you provided during the cell tower issue. I saw first hand the pressure you were under and it was horrific and you guys never faulted and the ultimate result and goal was accomplished. I suspect you were both exhausted at the completion of the picnic but you were victorious. I hope you look back some day soon with satisfaction at how strong you both were during this time and what strength you both have.

Thank you to the support team that assisted Joe and Kara – you were awesome including my wife Vicki who I am so proud of. Everyone was constantly under deadlines and we all just kept hitting them and that is a testament to the commitment. Then neighbors in the immediate area all came together to provide additional support and assistance and their encouragement and involvement was great. 

Also thanks and recognition to our Smart Growth Committee (The McMillians, The Conn’s and Richard Reece). Without our formation this year this whole issue could have been very different. I am excited about the future of this committee and energy we have sparked.

A big thanks to our Board led by Tammy Hobbs and a final BIG THANKS to Historical Bluefields and the wonderful neighbors we live with. It is surprising how important moral support is and I thank you all for your support during this process. There was not a resident that wasn’t touched by this issue and you all showed great care and compassion.

Special thanks to all our sponsors and volunteers that helped make the picnic such a great event as well!

I look forward with optimisim to what we can accomplish together at Bluefields in the upcoming years!

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