GREENBELT – Milestone Communications has backed out of two contentious cell phone tower proposals on school sites in Prince George’s County after fierce opposition from residents.
While there was opposition, it was not just the voices of residents that forced the company to withdraw both applications, but guidelines, rules and regulations that ultimately will prevent Milestone from moving forward with the two proposed sites on Prince George’s County Public Schools’ (PGCPS) land.
“Milestone has withdrawn its application for Accokeek due to the school’s conversion to a K-8. PGCPS policies do not permit telecommunications facilities on elementary school sites,” said Raven Hill, a school system spokesperson.
In the case of the proposed tower at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, issues of transparency and due notice have arisen continuously throughout the process, noted Lupi Quinteros-Grady, the school board member who represents the area.
“The process followed by Milestone Communications has shown a lack of respect for community engagement and a complete dismissal of community concerns. The very location of one meeting showed a clear insensitivity to the community’s views,” Quinteros-Grady wrote in a letter to the chief executive officer (CEO) of PGCPS, encouraging him to reject the tower’s application.
“Milestone’s decision to host a meeting outside of the high school and city of Greenbelt limited local participation by design. There was no prior notification to me or the board of education, which prohibited my own participation since the meeting was scheduled the same night as a board meeting.”
Quinteros-Grady also received more than 40 emails with complaints from residents of her district that were vehemently opposed to the tower proposal, as well as from teachers at the high school.
“The frustrations on my end were the transparency around and how things were being done and communicated,” she said, explaining that even as a board member she had difficulty getting answers and planning meetings with Milestone. “And that was what I was communicating in reaching out to the administration.”
However, the board member noted that the board of education cannot vote on proposed tower sites due to the contract PGCPS signed with Milestone that predates most of the board members and the current school administration.
Greenbelt residents showed up in force to a meeting, held outside city limits, about the tower and spent nearly two hours accosting Milestone staff, claiming that the company did not care about black lives or human health.
One of those residents was Dasan Bobo, who said he opposed the tower, which would have been built less than 300 feet from his home, because of the possible health concerns associated with the type of radiation the cellphone tower emits.
“It’s unacceptable,” he said after the meeting in late April, explaining that he would not subject his family to the health hazards a tower brings. “They’re literally pushing me off my land and forcing me to go somewhere else.”
Quinteros-Grady’s letter, in addition to numerous complaints from residents, convinced the school’s CEO Kevin Maxwell to send a letter to Milestone Communications echoing the boardmember’s complaints and opposing the tower.
Milestone Communications did not answer numerous calls to their office and did not return requests for comment.
For Mary Goldsmith, an Accokeek resident, the news of the tower not moving forward at Accokeek Academy brought relief. She said she opposed the proposal from the beginning because she felt the tower would be a violation of safety.
“Although there are no known issues, why should we be willing to take a risk, especially on the grounds of the schools that are supposed to educate and protect our children in our absence,” she said. “Secondly, the health concerns have mixed reports, however, if there is any chance that any amount or any form of radiation is given off, there should be more than enough reason to back off. “
Goldsmith continues to question the contract that PGCPS has with Milestone to allow cell phone towers on certain school properties and the message she believes that contract sends to students.
She said she feels the school system is putting “dollar signs” before the health and wellness of students.
“Aren’t our children and their futures bright enough and worth more than dollar signs,” she asked.
Still, Goldsmith heralded the withdrawn proposals as a victory for residents, though she believes it is just the starting point for Prince George’s County.
“I think it really starts an open dialogue on what the residents find important. It shows our elected officials that you represent us, and when you go against that, you are not fulfilling your obligations and oath,” she said. “I and many are definitely not going to let this fire burn out. There are several issues facing our communities and we intend to lessen and stop the blows, especially for our youth and elders. I am excited about this victory; however, I am very realistic that this is far from the end. I know this is only the beginning, for this and similar obstacles.”
Bobo and other Greenbelt residents shared a similar message when they came out to the May 11 board of education meeting. They voiced thanks for Quinteros-Grady and Maxwell’s letters, saying they are glad the tower is not moving forward, but they also brought a new message with them: residents want to see this contract with Milestone rescinded.
“I call for the cancellation of this contract that has no place in our community and education system,” Bobo said. “Thanks again for the actions you have taken thus far, but I want to challenge you to go further and reanalyze the need for this no-bid contract with Milestone Communications.”
Goldsmith shared similar views.
“Without a doubt I feel that this decision from the beginning was unethical and money driven, so it should be eliminated and reversed for those schools already impacted,” she said.
And Quinteros-Grady said the board is listening to those ideas.
“I think that there is an interest there to explore the conversation and I don’t think that this is going to go away,” she said. “I think transparency is really what matters, too.”