Parents of students at Sierra Waldorf School in Jamestown are hoping the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors will reverse the Planning Commission’s approval of an AT&T wireless telecommunications tower that would be located less than a mile away from the school.
The tower is approved for a location on residential property along Dante Drive, about 3,600 feet from the school, which some parents of students say is too close for comfort due to the questions over the potential health impacts from exposure to electromagnetic frequencies.
“We simply ask them to relocate this cell tower at a safe distance,” said Robert Tindall, of Sonora, who has an 8-year-old daughter attending second grade at Sierra Waldorf School.
The public hearing for the board to consider an appeal of the commission’s approval of the tower is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in the board’s chambers on the fourth floor of the County Administrator Center at 2 S. Green St., Sonora.
The board’s regular meeting will begin at 9 a.m. and includes items related to mid-year budget adjustments, a nearly $500,000 bridge preventative maintenance project, and a proposed natural surface trail that would circumnavigate the county property on Greenley Road that includes the library and senior center.
Tindall said the Federal Communications Commission has done thorough studies on thermal radiation, such as the kind emitted by a microwave, but it hasn’t done thorough studies on nonthermal radiation like that which would be emitted by the tower.
A group of Sierra Waldorf parents have exchanged emails and met in private about the subject several times since Dec. 20, when the commission approved a permit for an AT&T contractor to build the tower.
The commission had previously approved the project in October but was forced to re-do the public hearing because of a clerical error in the posting of that meeting’s agenda, which the Community Resources Agency discovered days before an appeal hearing with the board on Nov. 21.
Raul Vaughn, who lives on Dante Drive and opposes the tower’s construction, filed the original appeal to the board after the commission’s October meeting and re-filed his appeal after the commission again approved the project in December.
Tindall and other parents opposed to the project say it’s not in compliance with the Tuolumne County Ordinance Code because they don’t believe AT&T explored alternative co-location sites, provided an accurate coverage map or landscaping plan, and doesn’t have legal access to the property that’s zoned residential.
The parents also believe the county is playing “Russian roulette” with their children’s health because of the unknown health effects. Tindall cited a policy by the International Association of Firefighters opposed to the use of fire stations as base stations for cell towers or antennas.
“Digital cellular antennas can have serious health effects,” Tindall said. “They (the firefighters association) cite strong evidence for increased danger of cancer, lymphoma, tumors, leukemia, disruption of sleep patterns, headaches, DNA breakage, and a grim parade of neurological changes.”
Though industry-sponsored studies say that a half-mile is a safe distance, Tindall said the parents believe the tower should be at least 2 or 3 miles away. A professional electrical engineer hired by AT&T attended the Dec. 20 meeting and said the frequency levels would be about 70 times below the FCC limit by the time they reached the school.
Tindall said he also believes the tower’s construction could imperil the financial future of the school.
“Environmentally aware parents, which is typical of a Waldorf parent, are going to think twice before enrolling or re-enrolling their children in a school so close to a cell tower,” he said. “If there’s a 5 percent drop in enrollment, that equals $100,000 lost, which will either be made up by tuition hikes or the cutting of vital programs or laying off of employees.”
The land on Dante Drive where the tower would be built is owned by Bruce and Elizabeth Beaudreau, who said they agreed to AT&T’s request for use of their property because the company said it would improve Internet service in the area.
They provided a petition at the Dec. 20 meeting with 35 signatures of people in the area who supported the tower.