The residents of one Sandy Springs neighborhood where a Verizon representative came to inform them about the installation of some mini-cell towers in January are again angry because, amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, at least one contractor representing Verizon didn’t follow the rules of social distancing (being at least six feet apart) while handing out fliers informing them of the plan.
In January, neighbors in the Derby Hills subdivision became upset after subcontractors showed up without notice and prepared to install 34-foot antennas as part of Verizon’s plan to upgrade its cellular network to 5G (fifth-generation) technology. They complained to city officials (plus their state lawmakers), but because of a new federal policy and a new state law allowing the antennas to be installed 50 feet apart, the city may have no way of stopping it.
Employees of Network Installation Specialists, a Ball Ground-based company contracted by Verizon to help with notifying residents of the installation, came to Derby Hills March 27 and 30 (one each day). They brought with them an off-duty Fulton County Sheriff’s Office deputy as a security guard.
“Our front doorbell rang (March 27) and I opened the door and immediately asked the guy to stand back so we could keep our distance,” Bill Kaspers said. “He did but breached the six feet. He said his name was Wesley Ryan. … I asked if he had a (business) card. He said no. I asked if he could give me the name of his supervisor and his supervisor’s number and he did.
“At that point we were walking down the steps because I noticed something painted on the street. I had to ask him three times to back up to keep his distance from me. I then told him I didn’t appreciate him bringing the threat of the coronavirus, and he said he can’t ask me to leave. I said, ‘We think you’re a nuisance. If you won’t leave at my request, I’ll call the cops.’ At that point he left. Then I called his boss.”
In his conversation with the contractor’s boss, Kaspers said he asked why Verizon couldn’t install some of the towers on top of existing utility poles or areas where there are power sources, since one is being placed in his front yard.
He also called Sandy Springs City Attorney Dan Lee, who, through the city’s public works department, got a stop-work order issued for Verizon’s installations.
“I said, ‘Dan, I’m concerned about this coronavirus thing with Verizon.’ He said, ‘I spent the last 20 days at home because I had the coronavirus.’”
Another Derby Hills resident, who asked to not be named, said Ryan and the security guard returned 30 minutes later with what they thought may be the correct permit to carry out the installation but were shut down again by the city.
Kaspers said when a contractor returned the following Monday to distribute the flyers, they just left the flyer on each resident’s door.
, said she was also upset the contractor did not follow social distancing rules.
“The real issue is everyone here in Sandy Springs is under the shelter-in-place directive,” the resident said. “Installing new technology is not essential business. They aren’t following the rules set in place by the government. … Anything people are touching could pass the COVID-19 to others.”
The neighbor also said Verizon rep Matt Hartley, who residents had communicated with previously, was not replying to messages they left with him.
“They’re not even responding to the email address they’re including in messages circulating to the neighbors,” the resident said. “They clearly don’t care about citizens’ lives, which they’re endangering. We have an elderly population in this neighborhood. We have several high-risk individuals and even some young children. … It’s a danger the company is bringing in (Derby Hills).”
Sandy Springs spokeswoman Sharon Kraun confirmed a stop-work order was issued.
“Upon hearing that subcontractors were approaching homeowners during this time of a national pandemic crisis, the city has issued a stop-work order on all installation in resident neighborhoods until the end of pandemic crisis,” she said.
When emailed by the Neighbor seeking comment on the issue, Kate Jay, a Verizon spokeswoman, said the news outlet should contact a representative of the contractor, Michael Standifer, instead. An email sent to Standifer seeking comment was not returned. Jay did also email the Neighbor a statement.
“… We appreciate the strong partnership with the city of Sandy Springs and have worked closely with them to address the concerns of some residents during these difficult and stressful times,” Verizon stated. “Out of an abundance of caution, we have agreed to temporarily pause network construction around residential areas in Sandy Springs.
“For work that continues, both Verizon and its contractors will continue their commitment to abide by the social distancing guidelines issued by the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and (World Health Organization). We will continue to closely monitor the situation as it evolves and will make adjustments as needed and in coordination with city officials.”
Kaspers said the whole experience was something he never would have expected.
“My wife and I have been owners of this property since the spring of 1974,” he said. “I’ve never had an invasion like this before. Maybe all of this will (end soon), and maybe we need to have another town hall or meeting to talk to Verizon and the subcontracting.”