A crowd estimated at between 60 to 100 guests gathered Friday evening, May 3rd at the First Baptist Church of Memphis to discuss a 300-foot tall cellular tower which has been proposed for construction on Lindell Street, just down the road from the facility.
Local attorney Kevin Brown welcomed the community members to the event and stressed that the function was to share information regarding the proposed structure.
“We all need to educate ourselves about this situation and remain informed about what is going on in our neighborhoods and in our community,” said Brown. “We hope to share with you what we have learned so you can leave here more informed, but we also ask you not to just take our word for it and to get engaged, do your own research and form your own opinions.”
Brown said he learned about the proposed construction through a legal notice published in the local newspaper. Noting its close proximity to his property, he looked into the protect sponsor, Wireless Investment Partnership.
“This was the first big red flag for me, as I was unable to find out anything about the company,” said Brown. “They don’t have any internet footprint at all.”
Danny Emel, another property owner close to the proposed site, told the gathering that he had visited the company’s office in St. Charles.
“I didn’t think I was going to be able to find it,” he told the gathering. “It ended up being in the basement suite of an office building, with an entrance in the back, with a pair of companies sharing the office.”
Emel added that conversations with local legislators indicated a belief that towers are often built by smaller companies before being sold to larger organizations, which in effect insulates the bigger businesses from the public during the construction phase.
The public forum also offered a number of published reports and stories that raise questions about the health effects of Radio Frequency Radiation (RFR) generated by cellular towers.
Brown noted that the Federal Communication Commission, which governs these types of facilities, is doing so under guidelines established by in the late 1990s, with health guidelines that were meant to address individuals working on such structures.
“When you raise the questions about longtime exposure experienced by people living in close proximity to such facilities, we just don’t have a lot of reliable data,” said Brown. “If you look at the research out there it feels like it is 50/50 whether it is safe or not. There is no consensus in the scientific community if being subject to RFR negatively impacts your health.”
Emel cited several new reports regarding RFR health impacts.
He presented correspondence from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) citing concerns about a joint responsibility with the FCC regarding health concerns related to governing cellular towers, specifically questioning the FCC’s health guidelines.
Emel then noted a report related to dairy cows, which had lower milk production when housed near such a tower, but saw the production increased when relocated, only to have it fall off again after they were returned to the site near a similar tower.
“You can’t tell me there isn’t something to this,” he told the gathering.
Brent Walker noted that because of the potential health risks, the community’s number one priority should be to keep such structures away from our school facilities.
“I’m not suggesting that we try to stop technology from advancing, it just seems like common sense to locate these things a safe distance from human beings,” said Walker.
Walker noted that alternative rural locations have been offered to locate the proposed tower.
Despite what the majority of attendees agreed was more than enough research to raise questions about the health effects, Brown noted that such arguments currently are prohibited by state and federal law.
“As long as these projects meet the current FCC guidelines, there is nothing you can do about it health wise,” he said. “They have completely taken that out of our hands through federal and state laws.”
“The rules don’t appear to be set up to protect the public, but instead seem to be set up to protect the telecommunications companies,” said Emel.
That has shifted the group’s attention to objections that are allowed through the FCC application process.
One just possible hiccup is negative visual effects on historical sites. The proposed tower would change the skyline for the Downing House Museum, a member of the National Register of Historic Places, as well as the Scotland County Courthouse, which is eligible for inclusion in the national list.
Efforts to relocate the tower also will include questions regarding how it will affect critical habit for endangered species of the Indiana bat, the long-earned bat and the grey bat.
Finally the group hopes to address nuisance concerns about the lighting that will be required on the tower by the Federal Aviation Administration. Questions center around how disruptive the blinking lights will be on the neighboring residences.
“While we feel like we are being forced to find other reasons to block this tower location, we definitely have the health concerns front and center,” said Walker. “Are we as a community willing to take the chance?”
The deadline for individuals to submit comments regarding environmental concerns regarding the proposed tower to the FCC is May 17th.Emel reported that 49 signed letters submitting comments regarding environmental concerns about the tower were generated by attendees at the meeting