Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bolinas board battles safety of build out of cell antennas



by Shari Faye Dell

For the third month in a row, Bolinas Fire Protection District Board members have conducted hearings on the AT&T request to add three new ten foot panel antennas to an existing communication tower situated on the back side of the district’s campus.
The new high power antennas would increase G3 and G4 connectivity in Bolinas.
Subsequent to the AT&T request, the board received a similar request from T-mobile.
Previous board meeting minutes reflect rental monies generated by the two-carrier, Verizon Wireless and AT&T, monopole cell tower provides 20 percent of the departments annual funding.
Lease renewals were debated and granted in 2000 and 2005. In March 2009, the board passed a motion, set on the agenda since July of 2008, to amend the lease agreement with Verizon, extending the expiration date from 2011 to 2022.
After three months of consideration, the board then granted Verizon subcontractor Crown Castle permission to remove existing omni antennas and lines and replace them with nine panel antennas and 12 lines.

Report from AT&T
At a meeting on Monday night in the Bolinas Volunteer Fire Department community room, Board President Phil Buchanan reminded the thirty community members in attendance, “A fairly wide ranging and in depth discussion regarding electro magnetic radiation has been covered in the previous two meetings.” He encouraged comments be curtailed to the actual action of the agenda, allowing for the hearings to advance.
Chief Anita Tyrell-Brown acknowledged receipt of a revised engineering report, as requested, from AT&T company’s Lyle representative, Jonathan Fong. The report contained an Electronic Magnetic Frequency (EMF) study modified for clarification to show proposed and current levels, entitled appendix H .

A closer look
On February 2 a licensed technician took EMF readings at different locations around the existing tower. In the modified report, the Lyle Company transposed the actual on site RF emission readings as percentages of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) safety threshold for RF/MW transmissions.
A computer-drafted model of the increased RF emissions generated by the proposed additional panels was presented in the updated report. The board expressed an interest in obtaining more information regarding the math and science behind the formula used to achieve the projected emission figures.
In addition, the board sought to understand more of the underlying data the report is based upon. The AT&T representative was asked to define “existing spatially averaged readings” in a modified report.

Do the numbers add up?
“While the [new] antenna inventory shows there would be five times the current maximum power,” Don Smith, member of the Bolinas Community Public Utility District, point out, “assuming full build out, levels at the ground that were modeled [in the AT&T report], in terms of micro Watts per square centimeter, are actually lower than we have now.” Citing a possible discrepancy, he says, “That just doesn’t make sense to me.” Further questioning the report, Smith notes that appendix H compares current on site RF emission levels to projected levels but fails to build this assumption based on the antenna inventoried power output. Instead, Smith notes, the projected figures are based on a tenth of the antennas potential output.
Smith also suggested the report be modified to represent the spread of radiation in the vertical plane, “You give us the horizontal plane distribution but, the vertical plain is the key calculation for determining ground exposure levels.”

Access to information
Expressing a desire to participate in the decision-making, Bob Levitt requested a Point of Order on the process of continuation. “Before you schedule a continuation and close the subject for tonight,” says Levitt, “I ask that you open the process to public input.” To the sound of applause he goes on to say, “The community must share in the process. Can we redirect the continuation to include community input in the form of a committee–with someone from the board–so we can all stay abreast of new developments and information as it comes to light.”
While the board welcomed an open process and initialy liked the idea, they admitted time constraints would not allow for board or staff participation in a committee.
A bit of confusion ensued. Mary Beth Brangan reiterated, “Does that mean that embody else can meet with you during the month and you wouldn’t mind?” Several board members expressed they were not available to discuss this with community members outside of the meeting.
“So nobody wants to hear from anybody else that might have more information.”
Board member, “We are getting the emails from you.”
MB, “OK to facilitate a discussion, what I am suggesting, like we did in 2005, we looked at this as a community situation we wanted to solve together. Why whould you have all the burden. The more heads the better, that is usually the case. We also are spending hours and hours and hours on this, as are many other people.”
The board remained firm, referring to regular conversations with key community facilitators, activist Mary Beth Brangan and Don Smith.
“There is an anxiousness,” says Pam Drake. “We understand the complexities of what you are dealing with. What I am hearing, is the suggestion that what is needed…is the brilliance of the whole community and what ever resources we can pool to help with this.”

Voicing concern
Rachel Johnson presented an informal petition with more than 200 signatures collected in four short days. The intro reads:
“Petition to the Bolinas Fire Board to honor prior agreements with the Bolinas Community and to use the Precautionary Principle at the Bolinas Fire House when considering additional microwave radiation antennas, and to articulate those agreements and principles in an official policy statement.”
Prompted by the memory of numerous community members, district secretary Molly Brown and Chief Tyrell-Brown searched district records for a copy of the aforementioned agreement. Board minutes as far back as 2002 and again in 2005 reflect a discussion between board members regarding an agreement with community to not allow services that would increase the amount of RF emissions. While records clearly point out a promise to the community, no formal language was ever adopted.

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