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Roanoke County school board terminates cell tower agreement

Roanoke County school board terminates cell tower agreement

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The Roanoke County School Board voted Thursday to terminate an agreement with a company that planned to build cell towers at two county schools.

Milestone Communications entered into an agreement with the school board in February 2016, but just this year started on the planning phases of the projects. The company needed the school board’s initial blessing before meeting with Roanoke County planning and zoning staff to apply for a conditional use permit. The school board unanimously voted to allow Milestone to proceed with the project in October.

The company proposed building two cell towers: one tower would replace an existing light pole on the athletic practice field at William Byrd High School and another would be built at Cave Spring Middle School near the Roanoke County police substation.

Milestone, based in Fairfax County, builds cell towers through partnerships with school boards and other local government bodies. Verizon, AT&T and other wireless carriers can then rent space on the poles to expand cell coverage.

According to the company, Milestone has developed more than 180 wireless towers since its creation in 2000, and manages potential sites in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Washington, D.C.

Roanoke County could benefit from the partnership financially. Milestone would share 40% of its revenue from each tower with the school system, along with a $20,000 one-time fee and $5,000 each time a carrier receives permits.

Since the vote in October, board members said they received a slew of comments from the community about health hazards that can be caused by exposure to cell tower radiation.

Four speakers shared research with the board Thursday that indicated cell tower exposure can be harmful. School board member David Linden cited different studies that showed the opposite.

“There’s science on both sides of this issue,” Chairman Don Butzer said. “The little bit of revenue that we were going to get from this is not worth the added level of anxiety that we would create by approving these things. That’s what’s changed my mind.”

In the end, the board voted 4-1 to terminate the agreement, with Linden voting against.

Butzer said the contract with the company stipulates it can still proceed with the project by bringing the issue before the county’s planning commission. However, Milestone Communications would need approval from the school board to lease the properties for the towers.

Butzer said the vote Thursday would send a strong message that the board would not approve any tower sites on school property.

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Alison Graham covers Roanoke County and Salem news. She’s originally from Indianapolis and a graduate of Indiana University.

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