A proposal to build a 125-foot telecommunications tower next to the Oak-Land Junior High School in Lake Elmo has stirred up opposition from a local parents’ group. The Stillwater Schools Community Action Network (SSCAN) has begun an online petition that urges the school board to reconsider its plan to construct the tower near children, citing safety concerns regarding electromagnetic fields emitted by cellular telephones and telecommunications towers. The school board will hear Verizon’s tower proposal during its July 17 business meeting.
“We are concerned about the exposure of EMF (electromagnetic fields) and the health risks they pose to our children, our staff and school community,” an email sent on behalf of the SSCAN group said. “Safety should be a top priority, and we believe that cell towers have no place on or near school grounds where they can potentially harm our children and community.”
During the June 12 school board meeting, SSCAN member Sean O’Loughlin spoke during the meeting’s public comment.
“My understanding is that construction on this project would be completed before school begins again in the fall,” O’Loughlin said. “It is my personal opinion, based on my personal research, that any harm to students and staff from radio frequency radiation far outweighs any financial gain the district might receive.”
Prior to the preparation of a proposal presentation to the school board, the Lake Elmo City Council approved the project on May 6 within its city ordinances.
The tower, presented by builders Faulk and Foster Real Estate on behalf of Verizon Wireless, proposes that Verizon lease approximately 1,000 square feet of the school’s property, located at 820 Manning Ave. N. in Lake Elmo, to house the tower and an accessory building inside a fence.
In order to construct the tower, a conditional use permit was issued by the city. The tower would fit into the comprehensive plan of the city, and would be placed within the public facility zoning district as defined by city code. The proposed tower is the first new facility that has been submitted under the city’s new wireless communications ordinance adopted in 2009.
During the meeting, there were no members of the public to speak against the proposed project.
As part of application process to issue the conditional use permit, Verizon Wireless needed to determine that the tower is necessary to provide cellular coverage. The city worked with Garrett Lysiak, P.E., OWL Engineering and EMC Test Labs, Inc. to analyze the construction need.
“There no existing towers in the area that could compare to the tower they are planning to build,” Lysiak said after searching FAA and FCC databases that catalog the current cellular towers.
During his May 6 presentation, Lysiak said a the major concern some have is the danger of radiation coming from the tower. Because the tower will be placed on school property, this was also a concern to the council.
“Using the data submitted by Verizon Communications, I preformed a ‘worst-case’ radiation analysis to determine the amount of RF energy that would be present at the base of the tower,” Lysiak said. “I was able to determine that the maximum level of RF radiation reaching the ground at the base of the tower is less than the 10 percent of ANSI standard value and is not classified as a radiation hazard.”
The city council approved the conditional use permit unanimously during the May 6 meeting.
During his comments at the June 12 school board meeting, O’Loughlin challenged the analysis done by Lysiak, because the information used was supplied by Verizon Wireless. O’Loughlin called the study a conflict of interest, because the information does not come from an outside source.
O’Loughlin and the SSCAN petition cite studies that have suggested that chronic low levels of RF radiation can cause cancer and other health problems. Other countries throughout the world have much stricter regulation of RF radiation, and some ban cellular towers within 1,500 feet of a school building.
The installation of the tower can have a large financial benefit to the school district. Currently, the school district operates two cell towers on property owned by the district; one at Stillwater Junior High and one at JC Fields in Stillwater.
According to the presentation prepared for the school board meeting by Dennis Bloom, director of operations for Stillwater Area Schools, Stillwater Junior High School has a 90-foot tower that leases 510 square feet of land and is located near the ball fields. It has one carrier antenna on the tower, and generates $1,119 per month.
There is also a 100-foot tower next to JC Fields that occupies 1,920 square feet. It has two carrier antennas, and generates $2,025 per month. The proposed Oak-Land Junior High lease will be a 125-foot tower and lease 1,080 square feet of land. There is space for up to three carriers. According to the terms of the lease, the first carrier, Verizon, will be required to pay $1,800 per month for five years, with the option for four additional five-year lease agreements. An additional carrier would have the option of also using the tower with a lease term of $500 per month or 50 percent of the rent.
In total, the revenue generated from the three cell towers could be as high as $5,944 per month, or $71,328 per year. The funds generated from the wireless communications contracts are used for athletic facilities and maintenance, Bloom said.
The school board will hear the first presentation on the Oak-Land Junior High School cell tower project during the July 17 meeting, and action on the project is expected Aug. 14.
As of July 14, there were 29 signatures on the Stillwater School Community Action Network’s “No Cell Tower on School Property” petition.
Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]