Parents and neighbors oppose cell phone tower

cellphonetowerBOWIE – Benjamin Tasker Middle School is slated to become one of the first public schools in Prince George’s County to gain approval for a cell phone tower, but a group of parents remain concerned about health issues.

Some community members have said the benefits do not outweigh the costs, the developer in charge of the project says it has done more than enough outreach to the community.

According to a leasing agreement signed by Prince George’s County Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell, the Board of Education will receive $25,000 per tower site. Each school will receive 40 percent of gross revenues generated from the tower on its site while the remaining 60 percent of tower revenue will go to Milestone Communications.

 “No amount of money is worth it,” said Eric Martin, a board member of Mothers Raising Sons and Daughters, a Bowie-based organization working to inform residents about community developments projects.

The organization’s board voted unanimously 15-0 to protest the construction during an emergency meeting in late May.

The telecommunications transmission facility coordinating committee approved a building proposal last month, said Maureen Smith, a project manager for the tower developer, Milestone Communications. Smith said Milestone just needs to acquire a building permit application. If the building permit is approved, the proposal to build the cell phone tower will be processed, but there is estimated start for construction to start.

MRSAD has reached out to Montgomery County resident Janis Sartucci who spearheaded the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County’s efforts to shut down cell phone tower construction on six Montgomery County Public Schools sites.

The only way to stop the cell phone tower is by getting a special exemption where the Board of Education would sign documents cancelling the deal after publicly voting on the agreement, Sartucci said. She was able to secure special exemption in Rockville, Md., by bringing the issue to the court hearing examiner.

“Cell towers aren’t good neighbors,” she said.  “Cell phone towers are dangerous and use hazardous materials, which are dangerous for kids. We wouldn’t put gas stations on a playground.”

Martin said he shares Sartucci’s concern about potential negative health risks as a result of radio emissions from cell phone towers.  Children may develop cancer, he said, as a result of exposure to radio frequency waves emitted from cell phone towers.

“Side effects could take years to show up,” he said.

Max Pugh, spokesman for PGCPS said according to the Federal Communications Commission, cell phone towers have not been proven to be a health hazard to nearby residents or students.  

According to the FCC, the strength of radio frequency emissions decreases as it travels from the top of the antenna to the ground.

 “Should the FCC change this position, the Board can revisit this issue at that time,” Pugh said.

Deborah Lumpkins, director of MRSAD, said she first became aware of the plan to put a tower on Benjamin Tasker Middle School’s property at the end of 2013.

“I started asking questions and doing my own research, and I decided it was not a good idea,” she said.

Lumpkins, whose three grandchildren attend Benjamin Tasker Middle School, said the Board of Education and Milestone Communications did not do enough to reach out to the community.

Community outreach is required by the telecommunications committee in order for the proposal to be considered. According to Smith, Milestone Communications began the outreach portion of their proposal for Benjamin Tasker Middle School in January of this year.

Milestone sent a letter to residents explaining the project proposal. However, not all of the residents received letters. Smith said Milestone looked at data and only sent letters to those who it “felt needed to be notified.”

“We consider tower visibility, home owners associations and feedback from elected officials,” she said.

Smith said she and Ingrid Johnson, principal of Benjamin Tasker, sent an email notification through the county’s e-alert system. Information about the plan was also posted on the home page of Benjamin Tasker Middle School’s website, Johnson said.

“I was given all the information about the project and (Milestone) did what they were supposed to, and a little above that,” Johnson said.

Milestone held a community meeting on Jan. 30 at the Kenhill Center in Bowie.  Daniel Lee of Bowie was one of about 10 people who attended the meeting.  Lee, 67, went out of personal interest in cell phone tower technology, not because of the location of the proposed tower.

 “There were no parents,” he said.   

Milestone gave a presentation about the proposed cell phone towers on public schools property to the Bowie City Council on Feb. 3.

“No one came from the community and spoke,” Smith said.

Lumpkins said she did not attend the meetings because she did not know about them. If she had known, she said she would have attended.

MRSAD will continue petition efforts throughout June and July, Lumpkins said.

In 2010, the county’s Board of Education signed a leasing agreement allowing a company to choose public schools as potential sites for future cell phone towers. Milestone chose 73 potential school sites.  Charles Carroll Middle School of Carrolton is also proposing a cell phone tower. The applications for Charles Flowers High School and Kenmoor Middle School are pending.

Sixty-seven other potential school sites for cell phone towers remain. 

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