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Cell tower proposal draws more skepticism
Last hearing on plan is Thursday
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Forsyth County News

Neil Minor moved to Forsyth County from Oak Ridge, Tenn., a city whose nuclear power plant worries many residents despite assurances that it’s safe.

When Minor heard about T-Mobile’s proposal to put cell towers on the campuses of three Forsyth County schools, he was skeptical due to health concerns.

“When I hear that, ‘No, there’s no problem,’ that makes me very uncomfortable,” he said.

Minor was one of about 16 parents and residents who attended a community meeting about the cell phone tower plan Monday night at Vickery Creek Middle School.

The session was the second of three public hearings the local school board plans to hold on the proposal.

In addition to Vickery, Riverwatch Middle and the future Kelly Mill Elementary School have been identified as potential cell tower sites.

The final cell tower meeting is set for 5 p.m. Thursday at the Forsyth County Board of Education and Professional Development Center.

The board has not set a timeline for its decision.

Looking at the presentation Monday, Minor studied the property lines around Vickery, wondering who else could be affected by the proposed tower.

“I can tell you what’s behind there,” Lisa Cleland said. “My house.”

Her neighbor, Gail Graham, had printed maps showing there are two existing T-Mobile towers within four miles of the school.

Most at the meeting felt the area has enough cell towers.

But Dave Peluso, a consultant for the company, said T-Mobile doesn’t have any other area towers to share with other cell companies.

“We’re here because there’s a hole in this coverage,” Peluso said. “We’re not putting a tower up just because we want to.”

Under the proposed agreement, the 30-year leases could each generate about $150,000 every five years for the school district.

Up to three additional cell phone companies could use the towers at a cost of $150 per month apiece.

Barry Dow has two children who will someday attend Vickery Creek Middle.

He questioned the board’s judgment in weighing the financial benefits versus children’s safety.

“I’m really concerned that there’s a conflict of interest because you’re trying to raise money, and we don’t have any concrete evidence that shows cell towers are safe,” Dow said. “There are better solutions out there.”

In facing budget woes, the district has looked at other options for increasing revenue, such as wrapping school work vehicles with advertising. The board ultimately rejected that idea.

The board has brought the cell tower idea to the public because other nearby counties have allowed them, Chairwoman Ann Crow said.

T-Mobile representative Frank Romeo, who has a daughter who attends a school where there’s a cell tower, cited other school districts that have allowed towers, including Fulton, Jackson and Cobb.

Crow said Forsyth County didn’t want to move forward like Cobb without getting public input first.

“We want to work as a partnership with you,” she said. “... It’s people like you that make things happen.”

As attendees asked for more advertising about the public hearings, Romeo said that time would come.

“This is way too early to start bringing people in from the fray,” he said. “This is the first of many steps.”