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Sidestepping Health Concerns, Flagler Approves 5 New Cell Towers, 2 Rising 350 Feet

| December 7, 2017

Cell towers rising. (© FlaglerLive)

What a difference two years and a few feet make.

Two years ago Flagler County government rolled out a plan to contract with NexTower to put up three very tall cell towers–between 320 and 350 feet, far exceeding county regulations, or the height of the Statue of Liberty—in Espanola, at Cody’s Corner off State Road 11, and along John Anderson Highway in Flagler Beach.

The project was to be a foundation for the county’s upgrade of its telecommunication and emergency communication backbone, the network of towers that allow police, firefighters and government workers to communicate every day in real time. The current system is about 15 years old and approaching its useful end.

The megatower at John Anderson Highway drew loud opposition from Flagler Beach. Though county government approved one of the three towers, eventually all three towers were scrapped. So was the planned association with NexTower, a company that would have owned the towers and charged the county leasing fees for years. The one advantage at the time was that NexTower would have built the structures at its own expense.

On Monday, the County Commission unanimously approved the construction of five new towers, two of them rising 350 feet, one of them to be sited near the same location that was scrapped before (at Cody’s Corner), the other near the intersection of State Road 100 and County Road 305, on land the county just bought, and where its west-side fire station will be located soon.  The other towers will range from 190 feet (at Plantation Bay) to 250 feet (off Matanzas Woods Parkway, near I-95). The fifth tower will be at the county jail site off Justice Lane, an area no one sees but cops, inmates and jail visitors. All five towers will be on county-owned property. And the county will itself be able to lease space on the towers to private cell phone companies, presumably improving cell coverage in parts of the county, should the county find takers. The leasing would generate new revenue for county coffers.

The one big absence from Monday’s discussion: costs. The county administration has spoken to commissioners privately about the cost of revamping the county’s emergency communications system, but not publicly, ostensibly not to tip off bidders once the county seeks out contractors. What’s known is that in 2004, the county financed its existing system with an $11.4 million bond levy. The new system is not going to be less expensive, but likely more expensive, particularly with the construction of five new towers.

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The proposal drew not a single public comment at the meeting itself, and just two emailed comments, both focusing on the health hazards of cell towers.

Those health hazards are by no means non-existent: even the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates telecommunication towers, recognizes there is a hazard. But it’s a qualified one.

“Studies have shown that environmental levels of RF energy routinely encountered by the general public are typically far below levels necessary to produce significant heating and increased body temperature,” the FCC states, referring to radio frequency. “However, there may be situations, particularly in workplace environments near high-powered RF sources, where the recommended limits for safe exposure of human beings to RF energy could be exceeded.  In such cases, restrictive measures or mitigation actions may be necessary to ensure the safe use of RF energy.”

Jane Gentile-Youd, a resident of Plantation Bay who often sounds like Plantation Bay’s commissioner emeritus—she is at most commission meetings and is fiercely protective of Plantation Bay’s interests as she sees them, rallying her community to her causes when necessary—on Dec. 2 wrote Adam Mengel, the county’s planning director, to object to all five towers as “insanity.”

“What is the necessity for this?” she wrote. “County has no money for welcome signs or road landscaping maintenance but all of a sudden there is a need for 5 towers instead of one or at most 2?” Though an avowed avid reader of the local press, it does not appear that Gentile-Youd has been reading about the more-than-two-year discussions and debates over the county’s need for a more reliable emergency communication system. (See the side box with a list of recent stories.) She then focused on the health effects of towers: “Cell towers, communication towers are necessary for emergencies – but not above our health,” she wrote. “Were any medical personnel consulted regarding the location of these proposed chosen effect upon residents?”

The answer is no, because the county could not take medical issues into account, Mengel told county commissioners, essentially responding to Gentile-Youd.

 “We’re actually preempted in the consideration of any health effects in the sighting of any tower through the FCC regulations,” Mengel said. “U.S. Code comes back and says, that’s nice, but as a local government you cannot consider any specific tower location as it relates to health because basically what the feds say is that they retain the power so long as to consider health effects so long as a tower itself is within the limits of the FCC regulation. So the FCC determined overall those are safe, legal limits.”

The odd sarcasm of that’s nice aside, Mengel is right: the Telecommunications Act of 1996 addresses human exposure to radio frequency exposure explicitly: “No State or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the Commission’s regulations concerning such emissions.”  

So the county was not so much denying the potential for health hazards as saying that it is powerless to take those concerns too much in consideration. And county commissioners raised no questions about it. That doesn’t mean the concerns are not valid: numerous studies have shown a link between cell towers and a higher incidence of cancer in neighboring areas, but not alarmingly so, and not without contradictory evidence, as is often the case with such issues.

There was additional concern about the county’s need to light some of the towers.

“The hope with all these is that we won’t have to have them lit at all,” Mengel said. “If we can avoid the lighting overall, I think that’ll help us in the end.”

But County Administrator Craig Coffey corrected him: “We will have to light them all except for the Plantation Bay one,” which is under 200 feet, Coffey said.

What remains unquestioned is the towers’ need. “These sites in concert are going to be part of that public safety agency telecommunication system that we have and that’s coming on line,” Mengel said, “that’ll give us better signal strength,  better penetration, critical communication for our public safety workers on a daily basis and also for us in a time of emergency.”

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23 Responses for “Sidestepping Health Concerns, Flagler Approves 5 New Cell Towers, 2 Rising 350 Feet”

  1. a tiny manatee says:

    Sidestepping health concerns? Are you serious? Your disclaimer from the FCC specifically refers to high powered RF sources, and you failed to qualify whether or not that applies in this case. Cell towers broadcast usually between 450-3800 MHz, the body absorbs best at 30-300 MHz, and the FCC sets exposure intensity thresholds for cell sites at 5.8 watts/square meter. Had you bothered to actually look at the FCC site in more depth, you’d see that at the base of a tower you get exposure that amounts to less that 5% of that in a worst case scenario, and you’d have to be in front of the actual transmitter just a few feet away for an extended period of time to experience any real effects. Your cellphone broadcasts a signal 100 times stronger than what you get from the tower at its base. Seriously guys, you’re engaging in science denial akin to vaccines cause autism and global warming is fake. Stop it.

  2. I be Erudite says:

    Please light all the towers, even the one at Plantation Bay that will be less than 200′ tall. Not required by FAA to be lit if less than 200′ but lighting it could prevent a helicopter from flying into the tower on a dark night.

  3. Mike Rico says:

    Flagler and Volusia are both extremely under served in the telecommunications arena. Living in Plantation Bay, I am quite familiar with the lack of availability and quality of services. Both are of great concern for all people in the area. Hard to call 911 without service. Hard to educate children with limited and or poor internet services. UPS just dropped off a package at my house and I had to wait due to the poor cellular service in the area to sign for the package. UPS driver and I had a good laugh that it takes longer for a signature than the actual delivery in PBCC. Maybe UPS and FedEx will start charging a fee for deliveries in cellular starved areas. I don’t need someone with limited telco knowledge or experience speaking for me. Besides PBCC operates in a technology vacuum.

  4. mark101 says:

    The same people that complain about cell towers don’t seem to complain about their use of a cell phone or the mircowave in their home. FAQ of the FCC.

  5. Wishful Thinking says:

    County does not have ONE CELL PHONE COMPANY who has signed to any of the proposed towers as of this date. The tower planned for the Plantation Bay area will be able to lease to only ONE cell carrier… We all need better cell service but our health is far more important. Cell carriers will also be able to pick and chose which locations they ‘may’ want. Towers being built, on BORROWED county funds ( which means we pay) just for the county and not on behalf of any cell phone conglomerates.

  6. Brian Riehle says:

    The only health hazard posed by these towers is if someone falls off one of them.

  7. Dave says:

    How do these rf frequencies effect smaller living things like dogs, cats. rabbits and frogs? It’s bad enough they plowed the beautiful landscape now known as Plantation Bay and turned it into a Middle Class Retirement town. Do they really need to continue their destruction of God’s beautiful creations, just for better cell phone service?

  8. jadobi says:

    @ I be Erudite
    Unless its landing, or crashing, most helicopters are above 200′

  9. Sherry says:

    Although the “world renowned scientists” commenting here and on FOX says there’s no health risks. . . there are studies that say otherwise:

    Dr. Gerard Hyland, a physicist who was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize in medicine, says, “Existing safety guidelines for cell phone towers are completely inadequate … Quite justifiably, the public remains skeptical of attempts by governments and industry to reassure them that all is well, particularly given the unethical way in which they often operate symbiotically so as to promote their own vested interests.”

    According to the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center, “Studies have shown that even at low levels of this radiation, there is evidence of damage to cell tissue and DNA, and it has been linked to brain tumors, cancer, suppressed immune function, depression, miscarriage, Alzheimer’s disease, and numerous other serious illnesses.”

    According to Dr. W. Löscher of the Institute of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmacy of the Veterinary School of Hannover in Germany, dairy cows that were kept in close proximity to a TV and cell phone tower for two years had a reduction in milk production along with increased health problems and behavioral abnormalities. In an experiment, one cow with abnormal behavior was taken away from the antenna and the behavior subsided within five days. When the cow was brought back near the antenna, the symptoms returned.

    Incentives for Cell Phone Towers

    Why would a church, school or other private property allow a cell phone antenna to be placed on the grounds? Cell phone companies pay “rent” for their placement that can range anywhere from $800 to $2,000 a month. This can mean all the difference for an under-funded school district or church.

    Still, many people are wary that the incentives do not come close to matching the potential risk involved. This includes the International Association of Fire Fighters who, in 2004, came out against the use of firehouses for cell antennas “until a study with the highest scientific merit” can prove they are safe.

    These sentiments are echoed by residents of St. Louis where T-Mobile plans to put a cell site on an 89-year-old church. “That revenue is in exchange for our potential well-being, our peace of mind and our property values,” said resident David O’Brien. “None of us are willing to take that risk.”

  10. Kevin says:

    Without entering the debate on safety, these things are downright ugly! Too bad other options can’t be weighed to accommodate an alleged need for better telecommunications, placing devices on existing structures or other technologies using lower level but more frequent signal extenders.

  11. Concerned Citizen says:

    It’s not just cellular that’s going on these towers people.

    If you read the article and pay attention these towers are necessary to support our Emergency Communications Infrastructure. You still need towers to elevate antennas and get range. Unfortunately for us Florida is flat and towers give us height.

    I’m not fond of the towers either. When it comes down to our public safety community having reliable and effective communications then we do what we need to.

    @ Kevin

    There is no alleged. Flagler County does have an antiquated communications system and it does need upgrading. Should have been done long ago but politics and money got in the way.

    @ jadobi

    I think all towers should be lighted because Fire Flight and other emergency services helicopters often fly low when working brush fires and Law Enforcement missions.

  12. Percy's mother says:
    Get educated on electromagnetic frequencies at the above-noted website.
    Sign up for their monthly newsletter.

    EMFs are ElectroMagnetic Fields and/or Frequencies. Typically, magnetic and electric forces are referred to as fields, while radio-frequencies (RFs) are often talked about as frequencies. Nature provides us with beneficial EMFs that our bodies require for optimal health. However, artificial forms of EMFs produced by humans typically have alternating fields or pulsed radiation that can disrupt many processes that maintain optimal health such as lowering sleep quality, altering the gut biome, damaging our DNA directly that ultimately lead to disease and accelerated aging. Negative impacts of artificially generated EMFs are based on exposure times, intensities and frequencies of exposures.

  13. Percy's mother says:

    “Smart Meters” & EMR: The Health Crisis Of Our Time – Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt (M.D. PhD)

    Get educated people.

  14. Facts says:

    Our first responders are in need of better communications. Let’s get those towers in place ASAP! Besides the cell Service in Palm Coast is behind the eight ball.

  15. Strawser says:

    Ok I’m a little confused here. Three of these tower locations mentioned here are EXISTING LOCATIONS. There’s a tower 1/4 mi west of 305 on 100, with Sprint and Verizon. John Anderson Hwy with all carriers. Justice Ln by the jail has all carriers. Cody’s Corner NE corner of intersection with Verizon, Sprint and AT&T. I’m not sure about Plantation Bay which an AT&T tower was just built across the US1 entrance. Just throwing this out here.

  16. Gkimp says:

    No more sitting on the roof to,make a call!!

  17. Anonymous says:

    Cell towers are a thing of the past. New mini sites will be along the road ways to enhance service. The state of Florida already approved this and they are currently being used in St. Augustine and stop right at the Flagler line. Flagler might actually reach out to the providers first and find out what they have planned for the future instead of building technology from 1997.

  18. smarterthanmost says:

    Not sure why the county is getting involved in this since they no nothing about cell towers, or anything else they touch. For those complaining, turn off your phone, your computer and your television for a week, then let us know how you like it. Technology is here to stay, and will continue to grow.

  19. PCer says:

    Thank you Commissioners. Maybe we will get rid of all the dead zones around town and be able to have some real business and industry move into the area.

  20. a tiny manatee says:

    Ah yes, the Nobel prize committee, the same organization that awarded a peace prize to a sitting president that engaged in drone strikes that killed civilians, awarded a prize in physiology for the discovery of dna to two people that stole the work of someone else, and gave the Nobel prize in physics to a graduate student’s research advisor and not her for the discovery of pulsars. That’s called an appeal to prestige.

    And surprisingly enough, some of us on here do have advanced science degrees.

  21. Shortster says:

    Having 5 new and/or enhanced towers sounds good in theory when it comes to “cell” service. However, what hasn’t been taken into consideration is something that cell providers are governed by…spectrum…as in federal approved air space and bandwidth strength. Just because a tower is being placed in a locale that the county prefers, doesn’t assure that a cell provider will be able to provide said service from it. It’s called Due Deligence.

  22. flagler1 says:

    Well I guess the sky really is falling.

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