Milestone Communications plans to build a 135-foot monopole on the Chesapeake High School campus later this year. Verizon would be the first wireless carrier to use the proposed tower for improved network coverage. The service would cover a half-mile radius and an estimated 900 homes.
Milestone has built seven towers on Anne Arundel County Public Schools property since 2012. This would be the first in Pasadena.
If the opinions of Pasadena residents have any impact on the decision — which will ultimately be made by the Anne Arundel County Board of Education — the tower won’t get built without facing fierce opposition.
About 40 people attended a community meeting at Our Lady of the Chesapeake on February 13 to learn about the proposal. All but two said they were against having a cell tower on the Chesapeake High School campus.
According to Milestone Communications, the tower would bring improved Internet connectivity speed and voice connectivity. The tower would be located approximately 485 feet from Chesapeake High School, 1,300 feet from Chesapeake Bay Middle School and 1,980 feet from Bodkin Elementary School.
Matt Penning, project manager for Milestone Communications, explained that Milestone was obligated to look at commercial properties first. No commercial properties near Chesapeake High School met the setback requirements. The tower must be 250 feet from any road.
The 132-acre space at Chesapeake High School is 530 feet from Mountain Road and 725 feet from the nearest residence.
“Verizon scrubs the area, and per the zoning, we have to look at commercial options first,” Penning said. “It is much easier for Verizon to collocate on an existing tower or build on a commercial property.”
Building on commercial property is cheaper and usually removes the need for a community meeting, he said.
“They were looking to fix this coverage gap in and around Chesapeake High School,” he added. “If Verizon is coming, that means other carriers … are also looking to offload their capacity.”
Under a 2012 agreement between Milestone and Anne Arundel County Public Schools, AACPS receives 40% of all revenue made on the towers. AACPS also gets $25,000 after the tower is built and $5,000 for each carrier added to the tower.
That didn’t comfort the crowd. One audience member submitted a card that said, “This amateur amount of money is not enough to cover even one cancer case.”
Penning said Milestone Communications contracts an independent third-party consultant to conduct radiofrequency emission evaluations that go beyond safety regulations imposed by the Federal Communications Commission.
“We’re routinely 100 to 1,000 times below the safety limits,” Penning said.
Penning said FCC standards are looked at “on an almost annual basis.” But, as some parents noted, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 serves as the last set of guidelines introduced by the FCC.
Do cell towers increase cancer risk? Research is inconclusive. The American Cancer Society has said there is no evidence showing that cell towers increase the risk of cancer. The National Toxicology Program had a different conclusion after it spent $30 million over 10 years to conduct studies. In 2018, NTP announced its findings: exposure to high levels of radiofrequency radiation, like that used with 2G and 3G cellphones, is associated with tumors in male rats.
Penning said he would have to “agree to disagree” with audience members.
“It’s coming from the antennas, not beaming down onto the ground or base,” he said. “We don’t see anything to believe this causes harm.”
Dan Ogle, president of the Cedarwood Cove Community Association, said 328 kids from his community attend one of the three schools near the proposed site.
“Our community wants to know why we’re even subjecting kids to this,” Ogle said. “There are areas of Downs Park not even being used.”
According to Greg Stewart, AACPS’ senior manager for planning, that option was not considered because parks are restricted from commercial uses due to Program Open Space.
The cell tower project was reviewed by the Anne Arundel County Board of Education on January 8. Board members will review a summary of the February 13 meeting in Pasadena, and discuss any changes to the proposal. Without changes, Milestone will apply for site plan and permit approvals, and coordinate leases through the school board and AACPS staff. Once the building permit and leases are secured, construction will be scheduled and completed.
Only one Milestone tower plan on AACPS property has withdrawn: Piney Orchard Elementary. A Shady Side proposal is on hold.
To reach the Board of Education members, find their contact information here. To learn more about Milestone's proposal, visit www.chesapeakehswireless.com.
As for those who have children in Chesapeake High, Chesapeake Bay Middle or Bodkin Elementary schools, their minds are set.
“No clear evidence of harm does not prove safety,” said Rena Vasquez, a mother of three.