A Loudonville church and its neighbors clashed over the health risks of a planned cell-phone tower at a Thursday, March 11, Colonie Town Board meeting.
Neighbors say the proposed location is too close to Loudonville Elementary School, while Loudonville Presbyterian Church officials contend the tower falls well within town, FCC and health guidelines.
The completed tower will be 60 feet high and 1,200 feet from the school and will be owned by Verizon.
We’re skeptical of what these government guidelines are, said Loudonville resident Gary Mittleman. `Our government does not have a great track record [of setting safety standards.`
He cited past guidelines dealing with cigarettes, asbestos and PCBs among some of the failures.
Mittleman said he is worried the cell tower will pose serious health risks to the students, that could include a heightened risk of breast cancer, leukemia and sleeping disorders.
Pastor Elaine Woroby, of Loudonville Presbyterian Church, where the proposed cell tower will be built, said the decision to allow the tower was not made lightly.
`We talked about the health concern because people raised them,` she said. `We truly felt like this was the perfect project for our church.`
She said the income would raise money for the mission and service of the church and provide cell service for area residents.
She said after studying the risks and looking at the science, the church maintains that the health risks are nominal.
Amy Fox, who spoke against the project, said the radiation associated with cell towers is undeniable. She said parents in the district are concerned, and the Parent-Teacher Association was scheduled to discuss the issue at its Tuesday, March 16, meeting.
Part of the plan for the structure includes the addition of a bell, but Fox said that won’t change the fact that she and others believe a cell tower is a liability.
`A cell tower is not a bell tower. It’s a cell tower,` she said.
Anne Marie Growney, clerk of session for the church, defended the project.
She said it provides a number of benefits for the church, including a working bell tower and revenue for mission projects.
She said the exposure levels of the tower will be well below FCC regulation, and the church welcomes neighbors to a `process that is public and open to all,` she said.
`We are very open to a conversation about this project,` she said.
The church will host a meeting on Tuesday, March 23, at 7 p.m. to discuss the tower.
According to information form the church Web site, `the impact of the proposed cell tower on the exposure of users of church property and residents of nearby areas to radio emissions is similar to those of commonly used household devices, such as wireless Internet routers, cordless telephones and microwave ovens, and substantially less than that of cell-phone use. We are not experts on all the studies, but we believe we are working with the best information available to us today as we make our decision about this bell/cell tower project.`
The Web site directs users to a number of health organizations include the American Cancer Society, the World Health Organization, Health Canada, the FCC and the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology.
Mittleman said that fact that the tower needed a variance, paired with the location of the tower so close to the school spells trouble.
Town Supervisor Paula Mahan said variances are granted for a number of reasons but are not malicious.
`They’re not meant to hurt anybody or cover anything up,` Mahan said.
Mittleman and Fox said they could not recall the initial application for the tower.
`I had no idea,` Mittleman said. `How could the town let this happen?`
Woroby said the church was first approached with the idea in 2006.
Mike Rosch, director of the building department, said notice was given after the 2008 hearing when the application was first brought to the town, and it was included in the town’s designated newspaper The Spotlight, posted in Town Hall and at the church.
The Town of Colonie Zoning Board passed a variance to allow a Verizon cell phone tower at the Loudonville Presbyterian Church in June 2009.
Town attorney Mike Magguilli said the town adopted a telecommunications law in October that limits applications to town property and would have prevented the tower from going up at the church, but it does not apply to this project since the application was made before the law was adopted.
`The wireless community fought us tooth and nail on this,` he said.
The planning board will have final site approval, and the plan will not go before the Town Board, Magguilli said.