Solar Farm Ordinance Approved, Transmission Towers Postponed

by Brittany Mollis

Tensions at the Forsyth County Government Center rose a bit Monday night when the subject of transmission towers was brought to a public hearing. American Towers LLC and New Cingular Wireless PCS LLC are in the process of trying to build more transmission towers in residential areas of Forsyth County.

A presentation for the revised text amendment was given to the citizens in attendance. Even though it was a revision from the original plan that began in October 2013, concerns still arose from both the citizens and the Board of Commissioners.

One commissioner in particular was ready to battle to ensure safety for Forsyth County residents.

Commissioner Walter Marshall showed concern about how building more transmission towers could affect the well being of Forsyth County residents. Any time cell phone towers are built there is a fear that being too close to, or having too many towers, could generate radiation and electromagnetic fields. People fear that more cell phone towers could increase a risk for cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, “there is very little evidence to support this idea. In theory, there are some important points that would argue against cellular phone towers being able to cause cancer.”

When Commissioner Marshall asked the question, “Who monitors the electromagnetic fields?” it was explained that FCC staff oversees that particular matter. Marshall also asked how building more cell phone towers (in residential areas) would affect the health of Forsyth County residents.

“We are not legally allowed to comment on health matters. We can only talk about safety issues,” said Kirk Ericson, the lead planner for the text amendment. Ericson explained that regulations set by the FCC state that frequencies from these towers must be a certain distance away from residences for safety reasons.

Ericson explained the different kind of transmission towers that can be built, and the regulations for each tower.

Lattice towers, the largest of the three options, would not be allowed in residential zoning areas if this amendment is approved. The other two types of towers, the monopole and the concealed towers, would be allowed in residential zoning if they are kept under 180 feet.

In non-residential zoning areas, all three towers would be permitted, but they have to be kept under a certain height.

Ericson presented a map showing the areas of Forsyth County affected by the new towers. The map showed that towns with smaller populations such as Tobaccoville and Rural Hall would also be affected.

Commissioner Marshall questioned Ericson about the need for towers in those areas and whether or not the people of both Tobaccoville and Rural Hall would “get a say” in the matter. Neither question was clearly answered.

Forsyth County already has 75-80 towers, but American Towers and Cingular Wireless PCS want to build more because of the steady increase in cell phone usage.

There were a few residents in attendance that spoke during a public hearing. One citizen said that she agreed that more towers are needed, but she urged the board to delay the vote until they look at this revised version in more detail.

Attorney Tom Johnson of Raleigh, representing American Towers LLC, pointed out that people now use wireless phones more than landline phones, and more usage inevitably means that more towers must be built.

The Board of Commissioners were supposed to vote on whether or not to approve the amendment, but after debate, they concluded that they will need more time to review the revised text amendment. This subject will be further discussed at the March 10 meeting.

The other “hot button” item on the agenda Monday was the continuance of defining and establishing use conditions for solar farms. The public hearing on this subject has been closed since February 10, but the board had yet to vote on the matter.

Commissioner Bill Whiteheart introduced his version of the ordinance at the meeting. His version adds more screening requirements, and he expressed that his interest is primarily with the land owners and the buffers.

“Buffer requirements take property away from the land owners because they can’t use the land for anything but a buffer,” Whiteheart explained.

Commissioner Marshall boldly stated that Whiteheart was merely trying to help his business friends rather than looking out for the good of the public.

Commissioner Whiteheart, looking a little taken aback by Marshall’s comment, explained that he was trying to look out for the people who owned land. Despite Marshall’s criticism and eventual opposition of the ordinance, it was passed in a 4-1 vote. !