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Foes sound off on cell tower plan
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Forsyth County News

Chairman Charles Laughinghouse exited a community meeting about a cell tower proposal feeling prepared to discuss the matter with other commissioners.

“I think I have a pretty good sense of how the community feels about it,” the district’s commissioner said with a chuckle.

The 13 residents at Sawnee Mountain Park on Watson Road offered a clear consensus about the proposed tower: they don’t want it.

Wireless Facilities Inc. is seeking a 30-year lease from the county for space on the park property. The county would receive $15,000 per year, with additional revenue possible if other cell phone companies share the tower.

Steve Watkins, a representative for the company, said the park is the only viable option left in the area to close a coverage gap for four major cell carriers.

The community meeting was the first step in considering the tower. Several other steps, including a formal public hearing, would need to happen before the board makes a final decision.

Nearby residents voiced concerns about their property values, use of taxpayer money and health worries based on inconclusive data regarding radiation from cell towers.

Pete Amos, a resident and candidate in the District 1 upcoming election, said “you just don’t disrupt a community for that kind of money.”
The proposed 180-foot tall structure would resemble a light pole on the athletic field nearest to the community center.

Bill Moats, president of the park’s baseball association, said the closeness to the field concerned him for the players’ safety in case the tower were to fall.

Tena Wheeler, a member of the park’s booster club, said some kids already climb safety fences at the park.

“I just don’t think it belongs in a park,” she said. “Why would you take a green space and put a tower on it?”

For Bill Brooks, the possible effects from tower radiation were enough to put a stop to the proposal in the park.

“This proposal is basically putting ... way stronger radiation right above a bunch of kids on a playing field.”

Former commissioner Michael Bennett didn’t feel that health issues were the problem.

“Nobody worries about it when they’ve got one stuck to their heads,” he said.

Bennett expressed a governmental concern about the county potentially accepting the offer.

“I don’t believe the county needs to be getting into the cell tower renting business,” the former commissioner said. “Let private business take care of a cell tower.”

To date, Forsyth County has 27 towers on county property, both from outside companies and for county use, said county spokeswoman Jodi Gardner.

About $125,000 a year is generated for the county from the cell towers, she said.