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Galax City Council members, US Cellular representatives and city residents argued the health effects of placing a cell tower in a residential area on City View Drive, before Galax City Council approved the idea on Monday with a 4-3 vote.
Council also approved placing a 150-foot US Cellular tower on the Galax Police Department's firing range off Glendale Road.
Even though there already is an 84-foot tower at City View, a public hearing held last month residents said they opposed the idea of placing a larger cell tower in their neighborhood, citing the depreciation of property, the fear of the tower collapsing onto a home and distracting tower lights.
But this time, the controversy centered on radio frequency (RF) emissions, and Galax citizens and council members raised questions about the health effects of having a cell tower so close to homes, the Galax Public Library and schools.
City View resident Mary Jane Carico broke down in tears as she pleaded with city council to stand up for the rights of Galax citizens.
"It's sad what is happening to our residential areas," said Carico, who came before council last month in hopes of swaying their decision. "Our trees have been cut down, and now it's starting to look like an industrial park."
Carico also referred to the potentially damaging health effects, which could endanger the lives of children and adults.
She pointed out that the firing range tower would be placed near Gladeville Elementary School, where she also works as an educator.
US Cellular representative Carl Taskes said this tower would give off .002 percent RF emissions only within 50 feet, which is well below Federal Communication Commission's exposure guidelines. Also, he said there is no conclusive evidence that radio frequency emissions pose health risks.
Taskes said the existing tower, which provides coverage to only the city's Public Works Department, already gives off emissions.
Taskes said without at least some radio frequency emissions, cell phones would not work. "No matter where we place a tower, its going to give off RF emissions," said Taskes. "And if we turn it down too low, it'll shrink the coverage."
At last month's hearing, US Cellular said it had plans to construct a 115-foot tower. However, Taskes said the company would only build it to 105 feet and extend the tower as needed.
Taskes noted that the tower would not have to contain flashing lights. If the tower should collapse, it would fall in place.
Landscaping would be placed around the base, new fencing would be placed around the tower and, for aesthetic purposes, it could be painted.
“If we place the tower anywhere else, we would have to build a whole new tower,” said Taskes.
Taskes said the towers are not designed to fix a current issue, but are intended to resolve future problems and said these are the best choices for coverage.
The two existing towers that serve Galax will soon be filled to capacity, which may cause a problem. Placing this tower on City View Drive, along with a new tower at the firing range, would prevent such problems.
However, Taskes said before landing on the idea of placing a tower on City View Drive, US Cellular engineers also looked at other sites, two of which already have towers: Twin County Regional Hospital, which denied their request because there isn't enough room on the hospital's tower; and a broadcast tower, which was too close to the current city site.
At other sites it considered — Greentree Lane, Hampton Heights, Pilot Knob and the fire department — US Cellular would have to build a new tower that would not provide sufficient coverage.
The positive effects, in addition to better coverage, Taskes said, are that US Cellular would remove an unusable tower, provide space for other providers and 911 communications and pay a monthly lease of $1,000 at the firing range site and $800 at the City View site.
Another plus, Taskes said, is that it would provide better in-building coverage, especially since people tend to use their cell phones as a primary method of communication.
How many have cell phones, Vice Mayor Willie Greene asked meeting attendees, as most raised their hands.
Although there are theories that state that cell phones are harmful to health, “there was a time when people didn't want computers and a time when people didn't want electricity [because of health issues],” said Greene.
He cited how cell phones can save lives, recalling a personal experience with his daughter, and how people can become trapped in vehicles.
Greene said with a tower already in existence, he and council members Sharon Plichta and John Garner agreed that it is time to move forward on the issue.
Garner suggested that US Cellular take a closer look at the city's Hampton property on U.S. 58 West, but he wasn't against placing the tower at City View if it is the best choice.
Taskes said the City View property provides the best coverage, and no matter where US Cellular decides to place a tower, there is always going to be a new group of angry citizens.
“We have to look out for the citizens,” said council member Bob Lazo, agreeing with the arguments heard from council member Bill Webb and Mayor C.M. Mitchell. “I think you should put the tower somewhere else.”
The City View tower would be constructed by the end of this year.
Lazo, Mitchell and Webb voted against the cell towers, while Plichta, Greene, Garner and Derrick Davis voted for the proposal.