The Pasco County School Board tabled a request relating to a cellphone tower after it ran into a slew of complaints from parents and opposition from Al Hernandez, who sits on the board.
The board had been scheduled to vote on Pasco County’s request for an access and utilities easement to a cell tower planned on county park land.
Pasco County Schools and Pasco County have a joint-use agreement involving Starkey Ranch K-8, the library and the county park, and it has always been contemplated that there might be a cell tower on shared-use property, according to district background materials.
The information also says that Pasco County has negotiated a cell tower ground lease agreement with Vertex to place a cell tower on shared-use property on the south side of the football/soccer field.
The revenue from the cell tower lease is intended to go to the shared escrow account to help to maintain the shared-use facilities, according to district materials.
Parents appeared during the public comment portion of the April 4 meeting, urging a “no” vote.
Serena Arnold, who lives on Burdick Loop, told the board: “According to American Cancer Society, RF (radiofrequency) waves from cellphone towers have not been proven absolutely safe. Most expert organizations agree that more research is needed to help clarify this, especially for long-term effects.
“People, we can’t say they’re (cell towers) safe,” added Arnold, who has children attending Starkey K-8.
“Please understand that more than 240 scientists published an appeal to the United Nations to reduce public exposure and called for a moratorium on 5G, citing established adverse biological effects of RF radiation.
“Peer-reviewed research has linked a myriad of adverse effects to wireless, radio frequency radiation, including headaches, cancers, DNA damage, tumor promotion, impaired growth and so many more.
“At best, we can say that a ‘yes’ vote today is an iffy decision. More research is needed, especially for long-term effects,” Arnold said.
Another parent told the board that more than 680 people had signed a petition in opposition.
Alex Hamilton, another speaker, said: “Nobody can tell you 100% if this does, in fact, cause some sort of issue.
“We just don’t want it to be too late before we find out this was the wrong answer.”
Hernandez told his colleagues: “I feel extremely concerned, and it makes me pause, to have a (cell) tower” near a K-8 school.
School board member Colleen Beaudoin, however, said the district already has cell towers at numerous schools and she thinks they’re needed for safety reasons.
She said that she’s heard that the Starkey Ranch area has patchy cell coverage and she wants to ensure it has good communications.
Her primary concern is the ability to communicate, in the event the unthinkable occurs, she said.
“That weighs extremely heavily on my mind. That’s why I would lean toward having a tower, to boost that communication. I’m very concerned about the communications piece, during a crisis,” Beaudoin said.
One parent noted that in response to a request for information, the school district responded by citing a study that was done in 2010.
That was before 5G was developed, the parent noted.
School board member Alison Crumbley said she wants more information.
“We don’t have studies on 5G,” Crumbley said. “There’s an exponential difference between 3G and 5G.
“I’m concerned about the years of exposure, from pre-K and up, not only to the students, but to the neighborhood and to our staff who work there,” Crumbley said.
Armstrong noted that even if the board rejected the county’s request, it wouldn’t kill the cell tower project. The county could seek another way to access the property.
She said she wants to work cooperatively with the county, and she said the public needs to understand that the county has the final say on the cell tower.
Hernandez responded: “Even providing easement, I just don’t feel comfortable.”
School board chairwoman Megan Harding said she sees both sides of the issue.
Chris Williams, the district’s planning director, said the study done at John Long Middle School was conducted in 2010, before 5G was developed.
“They took readings before the cell tower went live and then also after the cell tower went live.
“Actually, the highest reading was measured before the cell tower went live,” Williams said.
“That radiation, if you will, is already in existence from a variety of sources,” the planning director explained.
The highest reading recorded at the school was 6.3% of the level the FCC considers safe, and that was recorded before the tower went live, Williams said.
The study — commissioned by the school district — was conducted by an independent engineer, who is an expert in the field, Williams said.
Since the school board’s vote isn’t the final word on the cell tower, Superintendent Kurt Browning suggested the board table the issue until after the county board’s April 18 decision.
A majority of board members agreed and tabled the request.
Meanwhile, Armstrong suggested the district see if John Long Middle has any 5G antennas on its tower, and if so, to seek additional measurements to compare against the previous study.
“That makes sense,” Beaudoin said.
Hernandez said if the county approves the lease and the issue comes back to the school board that his position will not change.
“I don’t think that (cell) towers should be at any schools that are K-plus,” Hernandez said.
Published April 12, 2023