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Two planned cell phone towers anger, worry neighbors

Poles at Skyway Plaza Shopping Center and Admiral Farragut Academy? Not in my back yard, they say.

Published July 27, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Julia Daniels coddles the robust swan that makes its home on the lake in her back yard and marvels at the eagle, egrets, herons and other wildlife that also thrive in her neighborhood.

But the paradise might be jeopardized, said Daniels, who is worried about a cell phone tower being planned nearby.

She and other Greater Pinellas Point neighbors say they will fight the 150-foot tower being proposed by Ridan Industries at the Skyway Plaza Shopping Center, 901 62nd Ave. S.

"They're proposing to build the tower approximately 120 feet from my front door," said Daniels, who lives in the Lake Coronado subdivision behind the shopping center.

In a different part of town, another proposed cell phone tower is causing concern. David Morris is angry that a 120-foot tower being planned by Sprint would be practically in his back yard. Morris worries that the tower, on the Admiral Farragut Academy campus, would be dangerous to his family's health.

"It's a proven health hazard. There are cases of brain tumors, cases of sleeplessness and headaches," he said.

The construction of the Admiral Farragut tower is scheduled to be discussed by the Environmental Development Commission at 2 p.m. Aug. 3. Ridan has asked that its hearing, which had also been scheduled for Aug. 3, be deferred until Sept. 7. Kevin Barile, president of Ridan Industries, said the company wants to meet with neighbors to discuss their concerns.

Both Sprint and Ridan downplay suggestions that cell towers are hazardous to health and say the equipment is necessary to ensure proper service in the areas where they are to be built. Barile sent residents a packet seeking to explain his project. Some towers are disguised as flagpoles - as would be the one at Admiral Farragut - as trees or even church steeples.

"At this time, we are not planning that" at Skyway Plaza, Barile said. He added, though, "I would be willing to camouflage the tower if it would gain the support of the neighborhood."

Nancy Schwartz, a Sprint spokeswoman, said the tower at Admiral Farragut, 501 Park St. N, would be built in the maintenance area, near the sports complex. It would be buffered and landscaped, she said.

"We're building this tower so it can accommodate three carriers, including Sprint," Schwartz said.

Morris, whose back yard abuts the school's baseball batting cage, said he is concerned about the health of his wife and two daughters, 15 and 12. The 15-year-old suffers from migraines, and her doctor says the tower would complicate her problem, Morris said.

Daniels, who is planning to get neighbors to sign a petition against the tower, said she is worried about safety in a different sense.

"The fact that it is 150 feet tall, if it falls, it's going to fall on my home. Let's get it located to somewhere less residential," she said.

"Why do they have to put it in my front yard?" asked neighbor Bill Heilman, standing on his street of impeccably landscaped properties.

Barile described the cell tower as "basically a big telephone pole" that would have antennas for different cell phone companies. The 4- to 5-foot-diameter steel tower would be anchored by an 8-foot-diameter concrete foundation, he said. A security fence would surround a 2,500-square-foot area around the tower, he said.

The tower would not increase runoff in the area, Barile said. "To address that, we are adding very little impervious surfacing," he said.

Both Sprint and Ridan would lease the property on which their cell towers would be built. Neither would say how much they planned to pay. In South Tampa, where Ridan hopes to build a cell phone tower on the front lawn of Chiaramonte Elementary School, the company will pay $2,500 a month to lease the property. Ridan would pay less for the Skyway Plaza property, Barile said.

As for the safety of cell towers, opinions among experts differ.

Henry Lai, a professor in the department of bioengineering at the University of Washington in Seattle, has studied the subject for more than two decades.

"There is cause for concern," he said by e-mail.

"The majority of studies on RFR have been conducted on short-term exposures, i.e., a few minutes to several hours. Little is known about the effects of long-term exposure such as would be experienced by people living near telecommunications installations, especially with exposures spanning months or years," he said in the report.

John Moulder, professor of radiation oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, thinks cell towers in the United States are well regulated and pose no proven health hazard.

"The cell sites that have been measured in this country and Europe produce exposures to the public that are less than 1 percent of the public safety standards," he said.

[Last modified July 27, 2005, 01:05:14]

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