By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE – Bright yellow is appearing on lawns near Washington Elementary School, but they aren’t early spring crocuses. They are signs opposing the 5G cell tower T-Mobile has installed atop the building.
The tower, which has been installed but is not yet online, has parents and guardians worried about the long-term health consequences for their children, since the tower shadows the school playground.
A parent meeting at the school March 2 was cut short by Supt. Catherine Cost, who called police officers to force parents and the media to exit the building.
Cost has said that T-Mobile complied with all federal, state and local laws, and that the tower does not pose a health risk. The 5G tower was approved by the school board in 2018, but construction was delayed because of the pandemic.
The school system will receive $1,000 a month for the tower, plus the cost of utilities to supply it.
Parents argue that the studies of the health impact of cell tower radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation are dated and said that the long-term consequences on the developing systems of children are just not known.
Despite the fact that the school falls under the purview of the Wyandotte Board of Education, parents have appealed twice to the Wyandotte City Council, hoping to find sympathetic and administrative help.
Residents who addressed the City Council during public comment suggested that the city might soon have another empty school on its hands if the school board is allowed to bring the 5G cell tower online, prompting parents to pull their children out of the school.
Currently, the City Council is trying to determine whether to tear down or repurpose McKinley School, a shuttered building the city obtained through a land swap. The building became redundant when the population of school children declined following the peak of the baby boom era.
Alexandria Cotner, a Washington School parent who works in the medical field, said during the March 13 City Council meeting that she loves the city and its school system and staff, but is frustrated with their inability to convince the school board of their concerns about the 5G cell tower installed atop Washington School.
She said that U.S. Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-13th District) has been unable to get answers from the school district and has been told to “stay in his own lane.”
“If a U.S. congressman can’t get answers, what are we supposed to do as parents?” she asked. “I urge you to put yourselves in our shoes.”
Cotner called the $1,000 lease payment from T-Mobile for the tower location “insulting.”
“We are here today to ask all of you, as elected members of the council, as the face of the city of Wyandotte, to please hear us and help us protect our children,” she said. “This matter is now urgent, because the tower could be activated any day, and we want to know who will step up and support a pause on this tower and be a hero in this community and protect our children and teachers.”
Josh Castmore, a Washington School parent and a local attorney, said they moved to Wyandotte 10 years ago because they thought the city would be a great place to raise their children, and they haven’t been disappointed.
“Our kids love their school, we love their teachers, we love the staff, we love the administrators and that is why we are so shocked to see that our school district would choose money over our kids’ safety in agreeing to place a cell phone tower on top of Washington Elementary School,” he said.
Castmore said that the parents have been unable to make any progress in getting their concerns acknowledged by the school board.
“I understand that this isn’t a fight that you asked to be a part of, but you are a part of it, nonetheless,” he said. “We don’t believe that safety was something considered by our district in reaching this decision, and it appears our district was happy to let T-Mobile make the determination as to what was safe and not safe for our children and our surrounding community members.”
Castmore said he knows that the City Council is hesitant to make this a city issue, but he said he is worried that the district will continue to place additional cell phone towers on its other school buildings.
“If our school district has shown us anything, it is that they are going to choose money over our kids’ safety every time, and it is not a close call,” he said. “You are also going to hear from folks here tonight that are prepared to take their kids out of Wyandotte schools and maybe even move out of the city if this continues to go through.”
Castmore said if the city has a school that parents don’t want their children to attend, in a neighborhood with many “for sale” signs on houses, what began as a small school issue will become a nightmare for the city.
“You have a choice here tonight and into the future,” he said. “You can stand with the community members that are here today that are going to pour their hearts out to you, begging you to stop this from happening, or you can stand with T-Mobile. There isn’t a third option.”
Castmore urged the council to determine whether the 5G cell phone tower atop Washington School is in compliance with all local laws before it is allowed to be turned on.
Councilmember Kaylyn Crane asked City Attorney William Look what options the council has with respect to city, county and state laws and the T-Mobile contract with the school district if the school board does not take action before the cell phone tower is turned on.
Look said the city made an administrative decision that the requested antenna met the requirements of the state law and therefore it was approved by the city Building Department. He said the city would be unlikely to overrule what its department head decided.
“I don’t know what action we can take,” Look said. “If the city didn’t take appropriate action, there is always legal recourse, but it appears that the action taken by the city was appropriate in this matter.”
Todd Hanna asked Look if the city had the authority to turn the tower off.
Look said that construction on school property is governed by the state school superintendent. He said it was not part of the city zoning process, per state law.
Mayor Robert DeSana reiterated that the City Council does not vote on permits for school property and said the decision is under state control.
“The state inspects schools,” he said. “The city does not inspect schools. We are not going to sit here and debate and give you the answers that you want, specifically when there is future pending litigation. The best bet is for us to just keep quiet.”
Castmore contends that the city passed the cell tower permit pursuant with the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, which he believes allows the council to revisit City Engineer Greg Mayhew’s decision.
Castmore contends that the permit was improperly issued, and that it does not comply with the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act.
“The permit was improperly issued and it should be revoked,” Castmore said. “That is what we are asking you to do.”