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Radio Frequency Debate Erupts At Lafayette Cell Phone Tower Workshop

Parents grill AT&T-hired engineer over health concerns for a proposed cell tower at St. Perpetua Church

A crowd gathers around an engineer at a workshop on a proposed cell phone tower in Lafayette on Tuesday night
A crowd gathers around an engineer at a workshop on a proposed cell phone tower in Lafayette on Tuesday night
A workshop organized by AT&T Wireless to provide information on a proposed cell phone tower in Lafayette quickly developed into a debate over the dangers of radio frequency waves.

About 30 people attended the session, which was held Tuesday night at the Veterans Memorial Building.

AT&T spokeswoman Alex Krasov said the goal was to provide information to residents about the company's proposal to build a 16-foot tall tower with six antennas on the grounds of St. Perpetua Church on Hamlin Road.

Rather than hold a public hearing, AT&T officials set up tables around the room for residents to quiz experts about topics such as the approval process, site design and coverage areas.

"This format is more conducive for people to get the information they need," said Krasov. "They can ask their questions and they don't necessarily have to listen to other people speak."

However, the table dealing with radio frequency compliance was quickly surrounded by two dozen residents.

Several of them grilled AT&T-hired engineer William Hammett about the data surrounding the proposed Lafayette tower.

They demanded to know exact measurements for this particular project and if Hammett could guarantee their children who attend church and school at St. Perpetua would be safe.

Hammett told them the radio frequencies from the AT&T tower were well within Federal Communication Commission guidelines, but several in the crowd disputed the figures as well as studies cited by Hammett.

During the debate, the other tables in the room were mostly vacant, but Krasov said that was fine.

"This helps us determine what the main concerns of the neighborhood are," she said.

Father John Kasper of St. Perpetua Church agreed.

"The dialogue is critical and the exchange of information is important," he said.

Kasper said the church has heard from a number of congregation members and neighbors about the cell phone tower.

He said they are evenly split among those who oppose the project and those who support it. Most supporters, he said, want cell phone coverage improved in that region of Lafayette.

The current plans call for the tower to be concealed inside a cupola on top of the former convent building in the southeast corner of the church's parking lot.

The tower would contain six panel antennas, 10 remote radio units and two surge suppression units. There would also be a 120-square-foot equipment enclosure structure.

The facility would be operated by AT&T, which would pay the church an undisclosed monthly fee for having the facility on its property.

The Lafayette Design Review Commission gave its blessing to the project on Monday night. It now goes to the Lafayette Planning Commission. The first hearing is scheduled for Feb. 3.

Krasov said the new tower is needed because coverage in that area of Lafayette needs to be strengthened.

She said the church property is ideal because it is on flat ground without any major obstructions.

Some Lafayette residents have organized a forum on wireless communication facilities and their potential health impacts. That meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Veterans Memorial Building, 3780 Mt. Diablo Blvd.


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