GREENBELT – Although on the surface Accokeek and Greenbelt may not have much in common, the two cities on opposite ends of Princes George’s County are fighting similar battles at the same time.
Both do not want to see a cellphone tower built at their thriving school and near their homes.
“Obviously I’m furious,” said Dason Bobo, a Greenbelt resident. “They’re proposing a tower and already decided to move forward on a tower that is a few hundred feet from my house.”
Last week, the two groups stood in unity as residents of Greenbelt met in Lanham with representatives of Milestone Communications about a proposal to build a cellphone tower at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, directly adjacent to several homes. While the meeting location was an annoyance for several gathered at the meeting, including the Greenbelt mayor and mayor pro tem, it was quite a hike for several Accokeek residents who traveled to the meeting in solidarity with the Greenbelt community and to rehash their complaints about a tower proposal at Accokeek Academy.
The meeting with Milestone was held at the Seabrook Seventh Day Adventist Church on April 25, outside of Greenbelt city limits and on the same day and time as a county board of education meeting, even though the proposal includes school grounds. Greenbelt’s Mayor Pro Tem Judy Davis pointed out that the city building was not being used that night, while Eleanor Roosevelt High faculty and families noted the school as also unoccupied.
This was something that did not escape Bobo, either.
“Was this intentionally planned to conflict with the school board meeting?” he asked.
Bobo was just one voice among the large crowd packed into the meeting room in the church. He came armed with a video camera and several questions that he would not let up on. During the meeting he was forceful, demanding answers from the Milestone Communications and T-Mobile representatives.
It was an extremely heated meeting that started rocky and only got worse as time ticked on. Sean Hughes, an attorney representing Milestone Communications, and Derrick Green, who works for the cellphone tower company, attempted to move through a prepared presentation quickly, but were stopped multiple times by questions and accusations from the crowd gathered.
“I understand that some of you are not happy about certain things, but some of you would never be happy,” Hughes said to the crowd after several minutes of shouting.
During the presentation, Hughes explained the need for the tower, which would house T-Mobile initially with the possibility of expanding to other carriers, the proposed location and what that location would look like from surrounding areas. During the presentation of renderings of the tower there were shouts of “that is right next to my house” and “who gave you the right” as photos showed the proximity of the proposed tower to nearby residential buildings.
The proposed tower is just feet away from Bobo’s house, which he bought from his mother a few years ago. Bobo said he loves living in the city of Greenbelt and making his childhood house into his own home, but said with the possibility of a new cellphone tower being built so close to his property he is considering moving away.
“I didn’t just consider moving, I actually was looking at homes last weekend,” he said, explaining that he does not want to expose himself and his future family to radiation from the tower. “They’re literally pushing me off my land and forcing me to go somewhere else.”
And this is about more than just aesthetics and property values for many of the residents of both Greenbelt and Accokeek – it's about health concerns and what these towers mean for the children in the schools.
“They’re trying to rationalize our health for money in their pockets and that’s not acceptable,” Mary Goldsmith, an Accokeek resident, said. “It’s made to believe that we are actually willing to put ourselves at risk for wireless service, which is totally untrue and false.”
Milestone, however, brought a scientist to the meeting to explain the details of the towers and the type of radiation they emit. Kevin McManus said the radiation coming off the towers is comparable to visible light and quoted from several research papers he had brought with him.
“This is called non-ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radiation is a form of energy that does not have the strength “to break chemical bonds and harm your cellular structures,” he said.
McManus continually said there was no conclusive evidence to prove that radiation from cellphone towers causes harm, but those gathered in the room were quick to point out that there is also no evidence to prove that it doesn’t.
Research done by several organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), concluded that the radiation emission levels at the ground near a tower are below the safety limits set by the FCC in 1996.
However, researchers across the country and world have consistently called for further exploration into the issue as technology and dependency on cellphones changes.
To that point, the Environmental Protection Agency, the FCC, CDC and American Cancer Society have all stated the effects of radiation from cell towers and cellular devices is still an “area of active research.” All of those organizations are still evaluating and researching long-term effects of the radiation, as well as “chronic exposure.” While, at the same time, the World Health Organization classified the radio frequency radiation, which cell towers emit, as a Group 2B carcinogenic in a press release from 2011. A Group 2B carcinogenic is a possible cancer-causing agent.
Although the members of both communities have several concerns about the towers, there is not much they can do in terms of fighting them off.
Cellphone towers on school grounds has been a long-running issue in Prince George’s County, elsewhere across Maryland and the nation. In 2011 the county school board signed a contract with Milestone Communications that listed 73 potential school sites for possible tower construction. That contract also lays the groundwork for how the school system would be paid for the towers: $25,000 for each built tower and 40 percent of the profits from each.
That contract was renewed just last year.
“This is an entire Prince George’s County issue and it’s just unacceptable,” Goldsmith said.
Despite few options, Accokeek residents are ready to take action. Goldsmith said the community is ready to take on Milestone Communications for, what they see as, a trend in failing to fully notify surrounding areas (several at the April meetings said they were not notified about the tower or the meeting itself, and meetings were held outside of the area affected by the tower and on dates when public officials cannot be present).
DeeDee Smith-Foster, another Accokeek resident, said the community around Accokeek Academy had similar concerns to those surrounding Roosevelt who said they were not notified of the possible tower.
Smith-Foster and Goldsmith said the Accokeek community is ready to take Milestone to court and they have a case date set for May 22.
“This (tower) is not in the best interest of the students, the community or the staff that attend that school,” Smith-Foster said.